Tuesday, August 25, 2015

What Middle Class?

by Marian Kester Coombs
The American Conservative, September/October 2015

"She says we are bourgeois."
"It means 'common,' but in a nice way."
                                  - "This Happy Breed," 1944
Everyone loves the middle class. Everyone claims to be middle class, some to put a gloss on their sketchy escutcheons, others to dodge chastisement for their awkward riches. But in fact both the socioeconomic reality and the concept of middle class have been turned on their heads, turned into their opposites, and at the same time trivialized into a mere lifestyle choice.

Economically, the middle classes were once proprietors, self-employed owners of property and their own labor. Morally, they were once the equivalent of “solid citizens”: decent, hard-working, law-abiding, temperate, proper, stable, staid, virtuous, and - well, moral. The qualifications for being middle class have gotten a whole lot looser, to say the least.

The European term “middle classes” originally served to describe merchants, tradesmen, investors and skilled craftsmen. The habitat of these classes was the walled City – the burg, bourg or borough – whence came their appellation, les bourgeois. The bourgeoisie occupied a middle ground between the nobility and the lower classes of peasants and servants.

As historian and professor Eugene Genovese used to say, “The bourgeoisie has been rising for about 500 years. They basically had to muscle in on the lords.” Two major traits defined this new class as it emerged from the chaotic end of feudalism: a close association with money (capital), banking and investment, and social independence. Their city walls, their gold, their commercial alliances, their education and their skills defended them from the rapacity of the nobles to the point where they could evolve into the leading citizens of a different kind of society.

G.D.H. Cole and Raymond Postgate, in The Common People: 1746 – 1946, describe the aftermath of the battle of Culloden:

This extinction of the older society completed a process started long before, a process which alone made it possible for Britain in the next hundred years to become the workshop of the world. There were now no feudal lords to be conciliated or cajoled by the rising employing class. Land-owners, bankers and employers, each with their own type of property to support them, made their political bargaining and conducted their trading without any semi-baronial powers, private jurisdictions or infeodated supporters camped threateningly in the countryside.

Prior to the Revolution, France’s Etats-généraux (Estates-General) comprised the clergy, the aristocracy, and the People (everyone else). After 1789 the bourgeois element of the People – a serious and truly revolutionary class – came to the fore and used the rage of the sans-culottes and the foule to wipe out the aristocrats. George Rudé’s The Crowd in History: A Study of Popular Disturbances in France and England 1730-1848 relates many instances of the doomed peasant and cottage-industrial classes – “the hard and black hands” – rising up to demand restoration of their ancient feudal rights, only to be suppressed by the bourgeoisie once Property itself came under attack. “Il faut en finir!” Order had to be restored. It was time for Louis-Philippe, the bourgeois king, to unfurl the banner of “Enrichissez-vous!

By the time Marx and Engels came along, the new antagonistic classes of capital and wage labor were well established. According to the Marxian model, just as the bourgeoisie had overthrown the absolute rule of church and noble, the working class (wage-earners, laborers, common people, lower classes, plebeians, the people, the mob, the masses) was destined to overthrow its new masters, the capitalists who capitalized upon its alienated labor. “Property is theft!” declared Proudhon. “We have been naught,/We shall be all!” “The middle class owner of property,” declared Marx in The Communist Manifesto of 1848, “must be swept out of the way and made impossible.” Prophetic words.

At its height, this original middle class radiated dominance, competence and rationality. It religiously embraced the sciences and their derived technologies and was swept upward with those powers into a world beyond the wildest Utopian dreams. In the words of Charles Morazé’s The Triumph of the Middle Classes:

The year 1900 was a wonderful one, when men were proud to be middle-class, and to be Europeans. The fate of the whole world was decided around green baize-covered tables in London, Paris or Berlin. … Mobilized by steam, the planet’s riches were being shifted … on orders flashed by telegraph in two or three minutes. … Not a single detail escaped the notice of Europe’s financial capitals: they fixed the price of a tram ticket in Rio de Janeiro, and the working hours of a coolie in Hong Kong.

The world the bourgeoisie made opened countless paths to wealth and self-reliance for even the humblest chrétien, as Paul Johnson documents so well in The Birth of the Modern. The greatest elevation of human beings in history had fashioned, out of “little men,” architects, engineers, shipwrights, road builders, agriculturalists, inventors, lawyers, bankers, brokers, journalists, industrialists, manufacturers, trader/adventurers, doctors, pharmacists, shop owners, highly educated theologians and natural philosophers, and pursuers of a hundred other useful professions.

Class Notes

Volume after volume has been devoted to the anthropology of class, its trappings, its contradictions, its “tells” and secret handshakes. Here it is enough to remind ourselves that today’s obsession with the middle class is rooted in the old, old story of human self-classification. People sort, grade, gauge and rank each other all day and all night.

Everyone wants to be middle class because human beings need to think well of themselves, or else endless misery and retribution ensue. Richard Sennett and Jonathan Cobb called their book The Hidden Injuries of Class, but most of these injuries are either quite noticeable or hidden in plain sight. Sennett and Cobb discovered that the most marginal of America’s working class would rather be perceived as middle class than revolt and overthrow the rule of capital altogether – or even make more money.

Entire nations suffer class anxiety. Adam Nicolson quotes unusually candid Greek sources in National Geographic (March 2015):

When the Greeks joined the EU in 1981, we felt like a ship arriving in port, … that we were being treated as a proper part of Europe for the first time. The euro crisis was a moment of guilt, shared by all of us, a sense that somehow we were all responsible for the bad things that were happening to us. It was a huge, national blow to self-esteem, a confirmation of the Greeks’ worst fears, that we didn’t really belong in Europe at all.

Naturally such humiliation is intolerable, and accounts for the continuing “violence of shame” in Greece – herself, ironically, the birthplace of classical culture, sedulously aped for centuries.

Older societies are still processing their ancient class systems, which were actually castes: defined conditions into which people were born and where they remained all their lives. The New World posited itself as a classless society, although it never was one, even at the outset. But in place of the Old World’s “better than thou,” America’s mantra was “as good as thou.” Classes in the colonies founded by Great Britain were fluid and porous; for example, the bourgeois cult of romantic love, as opposed to arranged marriage, enabled many to “marry up”; and the still open frontier permitted little men to grow grand, liberated from the constant sucker punches of class.

The Center Cannot Hold

In contemporary usage, “bourgeois” has decayed to mean square, unfashionable, boring, ordinary, lowbrow, narrow-minded, suburban, etc. The exclamation “How bourgeois!” is not intended kindly. The word’s fate is similar to the way chrétien migrated over time from “Christian” (a fellow soul) to “cretin.” H.L. Mencken had this decay in mind when he invented the terms “booboisie” and “Boobus Americanus.” Paul Fussell’s Class ridicules their petty, shallow status fixations. From captains of industry back down to “little men,” the bourgeoisie has crumbled both linguistically and economically.

Circa 1800, 80% of Americans were self-employed. By 1870 it was 41%. By 1940 it was 18%. By 1967 it was only 9% (from Victoria Bonnell and Michael Reich, Workers in the American Economy: Data on the Labor Force). Now – we are told it is only One Percent. What once was an ideal – self-employment – is now damned as villainous greed.

Middle class, meanwhile, came to mean anyone who works for a living. It is not unusual to see “middle class” and “working class” used interchangeably, which has led to the cheesy equivalence of “white collar” and “blue collar.” Even the hardcore unemployed are now eligible for elevation to the great middle. Anyone who has clung to a part-time job or might get one via state largesse is potentially middle class. Only “the rich” don’t qualify.

Middle class, in other words, has completely lost its socioeconomic bearings. “High-end” signifiers are fetishized as much by the wanna-be middle classes as they are by the One Percent. The very concept of middle class has become confounded with global issues of modernization, imperialism and cultural hegemony. It is José Ortega y Gasset’s “revolt of the masses” on steroids.

The Muddled Middle

Everyone agrees that the middle class pays the lion’share of taxes. It is deep in debt – illiquid. It is “endangered.” It is being “squeezed,” “crippled,” “hollowed out.” It suffers from erosion of net worth. Its atrophy is blamed for the widening income gap. It is courted by both left and right with great vigor during election years, each striving to outdo the other with violent praise for its attributes. It is “the backbone of our economy.” The American middle class is tasked with lifting the entire world out of recession.

Taoist philosophy observes that the more a quality is spoken of - for instance, filial piety - the less it is found in real life. Obsessive talk of the middle class is everywhere. Opening a newspaper at random (The Washington Times of February 20, 2015), we read:

As he pushed a $500 billion federal investment in infrastructure, Vice President Joseph R. Biden said: … “The middle class has been slammed. They are in worse shape than they have ever been at any time since the ‘20s … What’s the way to grow the middle class? Jobs. What’s the way to get jobs?”

Biden’s answer: “Generate” jobs via the magic of Keynesian government spending, a repeat of the New Deal’s CCC and WPA.

A Google search on “Biden speech middle class” returns 702,000 hits; “Obama speech middle class” returns 19.3 million. According to Mr. Biden, the middle class is “the fabric that stitches together this country.” But it’s “currently being killed.” During one of the 38 mentions of middle class in his 2014 stump speech, the VP notoriously thundered that the middle class has been “left behind” and “buried” – by the Obama administration’s own policies.

Meanwhile, in his 2015 State of the Union address, the President preached the gospel of “middle-class economics.” According to his Marx-haunted ghostwriters, that means “Everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and plays by the same set of rules.” The actual meaning is another tax increase on those who still have enough wealth left to be worth swiping.

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell gloated that the billions of dollars in subsidies disbursed to low-income people who sign up for Obamacare were “further proof that the Affordable Care Act is working for the middle class” in Food Stamp Nation. Robert Reich has said over and over that “inequality is bad for everyone, not just for the middle class and poor,” and that income redistribution must be engineered to raise the income of the middle class to “middle-class levels,” whatever those are.

Just after the 2012 election, Howard Dean revealed the left’s “radical” program to save the middle class by destroying it when he said, “This is, initially, gonna sound like heresy from a progressive. The truth is, everybody needs to pay more taxes, not just the rich.”

Elizabeth Warren talks the new class war better than most. She’d love to just be able to come out and yell about “the working class!” But she’s fanning the spent flames of a fantasy. André Thirion’s book about impotent red intellectuals in Paris between the wars was called Revolutionaries without Revolution. What Elizabeth Warren keeps jabbing her forefinger at is a workers’ movement without workers.

Like all other cynical champions of the mythic middle, Warren deliberately mischaracterizes it. Middle class is not an income level but a material relationship to society. What have vanished from all these leftist analyses are the key middle-class elements of freedom, independence, self-sufficiency, ownership, entrepreneurship, leadership and real social power. To echo Cole and Postgate, the essence of the once-great middle class was that they possessed “their own type of property to support them.”

In any event, the 24/7 spin cycle has finally gagged on the term middle class. Its untenability suddenly dawned on even the most zealously ideological political operatives. All at once it was only too obvious that there was no substantial middle class to rhapsodize over or pander to. As Amy Chozick writes in The New York Times (May 11, 2015):

The once ubiquitous term “middle class” has gone conspicuously missing from the 2016 campaign trail, as candidates and their strategists grasp for new terms for an unsettled economic era. The phrase, long synonymous with the American dream, now evokes anxiety, an uncertain future and a lifestyle that is increasingly out of reach.

A family living paycheck to paycheck, heavily indebted and sometimes even “food-insecure” – that’s not a middle class family. And nearly half of Americans don’t even bother to pretend that’s what they are any more. So instead let’s call them “ordinary Americans” (Bernie Sanders). “Everyday Americans” (Hillary Clinton). “Hard-working men and women across America” (Ted Cruz). “Hard-working taxpayers” (Scott Walker). “People who work for the people who own businesses” (Rand Paul). Or simply “people who aren’t rich” (Marco Rubio).

Everyone wanted to be middle class, but the word that best describes our country now is proletarianization. In ancient Rome the proles (“offspring,” as in “prolific”) were “the class of society that had no wealth and didn't own property. The only things proletarians had to offer were their hard work and their children” (www.vocabulary.com). The overall scheme is to force what’s left of “the backbone of America” to pay for its own dispossession and disempowerment. Then our understandable class anxiety will be tranquilized by government transfers to give us an illusory “leg up” classwise.

The middle class could only be destroyed in the name of the middle class. Everyone loves the middle class, and everyone kills the thing he loves.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Bible of Hell

Reporter: "Are you a Mod or a Rocker?"
Ringo: "No, I'm a mocker."
("A Hard Day's Night")

Now that Je suis Charlie has trended to its end, Je ne suis pas Charlie can safely re-emerge. The column below summarizes well the views of the push-back:


Joseph Curl is a columnist I usually agree with, but in this case he has simply reverted to the Muslims' own justification for violent jihad. He asks several questions which he expects to be answered submissively. Here are my retorts.

1. "Is it really the job of journalists to belittle religion, to mock the faithful's beliefs?"

Hell yeah. The satirical weekly CharlieHebdo is not a "newspaper of record" like the Grey Lady, but the viciously cynical bane of every religion, faith, belief system, idol, hero, god, shibboleth, sacred cow, golden calf and "unexamined life." Anything that can't be ridiculed, that is "unfit to print," has a depressingly inevitable tendency to become tyrannical. The Frenchman Voltaire said it best: "I may disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." His admirer Thomas Jefferson added, "There is not a truth existing which I fear ... or would wish unknown to the whole world."

2. "Should we ridicule and demonize those of other religions simply because we can?"

Who is "we"? There have been individuals in all eras and places who deride the tender sentiments of their fellow man, and there always will be. Free speech doesn't mean pain-free, shock-free speech. Free speech is either an absolute right or a dead letter. It is not to be stripped away bit by bit by hounds baying for its blood.

Have some humility, humans. What deity is harmed or angered by Man's mockery? Only the tin gods of intolerant belief systems like certain sects of Christianity and Judaism and most of Islam. (Currently Hinduism is displaying a greater urge to dominate under the Bharatiya Janata Party in India. Which leaves Buddhism - maybe.) The mockers among us do not "demonize," however: They themselves are demonized, considered demons. They rouse and raise doubt and most humans are mortally offended by doubt. People are clucking over the post-attack drawing of murdered CharlieHebdo cartoonist Georges Wolinski being comforted in the afterlife by one of Allah's mythical virgins, but it is just that hardcore relentless irreverence that he championed.

3. "If CharlieHebdo wanted to anger Muslims, it succeeded. But was there ever any higher purpose, any constructive goal, in doing so? ... And, quite simply, what is the point?"

Fortunately in America we don't have to go before tribunals that demand we justify our "higher purpose" or "constructive goal" or "point." If the government were turning a blind eye to and even subsidizing hate groups that advocate ethnic cleansing, say, of "infidels," then we might well object. Wait - the government is doing that. Using our tax money to finance terrorism against our nation. Moreover the government itself provokes far more jihadi rage by lording it over the Middle East than all the satirical magazines put together.

Charlie's cartoons are "infantile" and they are "vulgar" - both Al-Jazeera and Bill Donohue of the Catholic League agree. Too bad. Infantile vulgarity is protected under "the laws of Nature and of Nature's God" - AKA the Bill of Rights - from being infringed upon by the state or any other power. As Tony Soprano would say, "[Forget] you if you can't take a joke."

It is not the Charlies of the world who bomb and slash, hang, behead, imprison, lash and burn. It is they who do the ugly but necessary work of keeping us free whether we like it or not. They are the scribes of what William Blake called "the Bible of Hell, which the world shall have whether they will or no." The flame they insist on fanning brings enlightenment to the dark places of our minds. They instinctively know that intolerance, the entropy of consciousness, must constantly be pushed back. They know that laughter is the sane response to human folly. It is they who hear the laughter of the gods.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Last of the Americans: Rockwell Kent and Our Times

by Marian Kester Coombs

Whatever time it is, it’s time to appreciate Rockwell Kent. Americans of his kind are so rare we have to keep punching ourselves to believe they ever existed. It took me five chance encounters with this semi-forgotten figure – three in used bookstores and two in art museums – to realize how odd and wrong was my ignorance of him.

Rockwell Kent was one of America’s best-known, most popular painters and designers in the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s. Born in 1882, he hailed from Tarrytown, New York, heart of the Hudson River School of painting, and showed artistic ability from an early age. His ancestral Kents and Rockwells had come ashore more than two hundred years before; in his second autobiography, It’s Me O Lord (1955), Kent traces his ancestry back through a long line of carpenters and fierce freedom-lovers who built fortune upon fortune in the New World. He grew up a member of America’s founding generations: privileged, ingenious, self-confident, and liberal, as in free-thinking. That masterful sense of self got Kent through many a scrape and ordeal as he blasted lustily through life.

Kent’s cohort missed having to serve in the two world wars, and were too canny and well-educated to be raptured by jingoism; nonetheless they may have felt the need to test themselves physically and mentally in more extreme ways than normal precisely because of that lack of opportunity to soldier. Surely this may account for some of the wild risks Kent repeatedly ran. He exulted in surviving close encounters much as warriors glorify war, having come through it unscathed. Nonetheless, he was a lifelong pacifist, a lover of Peace, a hater of War and its perpetual lobby; and if he was never in a position to conscientiously object to induction, Kent made up for it by refusing to kowtow to HUAC and having his passport revoked by the State Department.

Rockwell Kent loved painting and drawing and the making of all things, from instruments to dishware, books to houses. His graphic illustrations, employing pen and ink, dry brush, lithography, wood engraving (xylography) and block prints, reveal the training in architecture he received at Columbia. But oil painting was his “first love,” and by 1903 he was pursuing it at the New York School of Art, where he encountered both the elegant William Merritt Chase and the raw Robert Henri of the art-for-the-masses Ashcan School. Henri encouraged him to get out and paint Nature and The People en plein air, suggesting Kent move to rugged Monhegan Island off Maine to get started.

The Monhegan years kindled Kent’s fame. His contact with the island’s fisher folk profoundly affected him, and thenceforth he felt the need to become what he was painting: lobsterman, laborer, house carpenter, furniture maker, well digger, lighthouse keeper, sailor, farmer. When his Maine landscapes had their New York debut in 1907, The Sun’s art critic raved, “The paint is laid on by an athlete of the brush.” Fellow painters were awed by his power to capture the spirit of land and life in so many media. Guy Pène du Bois (with envy) called his work quintessentially “American.” Canada’s Group of Seven were profoundly influenced by him. He had a beautiful hand.

Monhegan also led Kent to the first of three wives: Kathleen Whiting, niece of grand eccentric painter Abbott Thayer. Their union lasted from 1908 to 1925, and saw the birth of five surviving children. Kent’s constant impulsive or perhaps compulsive flights to the ends of the earth – the Alaska Territory, Greenland, Iceland, Tierra del Fuego – where he could paint in peace, engorged with exotic new subject matter (like Thomas Cole at Mont Désert or Frederic Edwin Church in the Andes); live simply amongst the hardy natives (like Tommy in “Brigadoon”); confront his true self, which he (like Zane Grey) believed could be encountered “in the wilderness alone”; and, a bit less airy-fairily, gather material for books to sell to support everyone – inevitably distressed his marriages.

A classic Rockwell Kent situation befell the family when Kent decided in 1914 to expatriate and paint in Newfoundland. They’d been there scarcely a year before being deported on suspicion that Herr Kent was a German spy: he yodeled and sang German songs as he strode about, named his second daughter Hildegarde, and refused to wallow in anti-Kraut vituperation. But Kent was simply a convinced contrarian. Ideologies meant nothing to him. He was as enthused by Teddy Roosevelt’s exhaustive vigor as he was by the Wobblies’ selfless camaraderie. His notion of being an American was to champion “the little man” – the man for whom America had been invented.

Another typical “situation” was his sojourn on a remote Alaskan island with eldest son Rocky, then nine years old. “In quietness the soul expands,” wrote Kent; wilderness held the seed, the evergreen promise of freedom, a promise that even democracies continually betrayed. Anxious to provide for the family as well as slake his growing passion for ascetic and aesthetic liberty in a Northern landscape, in 1918 Kent rented and rebuilt a lean-to on Resurrection Bay where the two of them explored and beheld and communed. Although they both nearly perished more than once, Kent returned after several months with the stuff of two best-sellers (Wilderness: A Journal of Quiet Adventure in Alaska and A Northern Christmas) profusely illustrated with vivid ink drawings, but more important, with a trove of canvases and sketches that have been called the most successful effort ever to reproduce the beauty of the far North – the cold gold glare of the midnight sun, the glacier ice that absorbs red and yellow spectra and reflects back purest blue, the infinite tones of white – what Douglas Brinkley calls “the kaleidoscopic radiance of wild Alaska” and Kent called its “luminous abyss.” Monet expressed the plein air painter’s struggle well: “I want to grasp the intangible. It's terrible how the light runs out. Color, any color, lasts a second, sometimes three or four minutes at most.”

In 1913, Kent was up in Winona, Minnesota, constructing a mill when the Armory Show suddenly detonated without him in New York. The snub stung him, but four years later, he himself broke with the avant-garde by resigning from direction of the Society of Independent Artists show over entries like Marcel Duchamp’s famous urinal. Along with Hopper, Bellows, Wood, Curry and Benton, among others, Kent was not buying the self-serving modernist myth that deliberate ugliness and nihilism were the destiny of art.

In 1929, after returning from yet another near-fatal but excitingly written and brilliantly illustrated adventure – yachting with two other men from Newfoundland to Greenland, where they wrecked on a barren coast and were rescued by Eskimos and Danes – Kent embarked upon yet another career as a book illustrator. Moving easily in New York society, he designed colophons for Viking Press, Random House and the Modern Library, logos still in use today. This hectic urban phase included illustrations, influenced by his own memoirs of Greenland (N by E) and Tierra del Fuego (Voyaging) for a three-volume limited edition and Random House trade edition of Moby-Dick, which revived the fame and fortunes of that nearly forgotten classic. The 30s saw him much in demand by the publishing world: for Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales, the complete works of Shakespeare, the memoirs of Casanova, the Decameron, Candide, Faust, Leaves of Grass and many more. Kent also produced a spate of satirical drawings for the likes of Vanity Fair and Harper’s Weekly under the name “Hogarth Jr.” During this period The New Yorker was able to tease, “That day will mark a precedent/Which brings no news of Rockwell Kent.”

Diva Renée Fleming believes that the most important quality for a voice is that it be “distinctive” – think of Sinatra, Fitzgerald, Callas. Kent’s work was certainly of its time (and we all know the style of one’s own time is “transparent,” invisible to those who are within it), and yet is instantly recognizable as his, rippling with individual energy; his kinetic, confessional writing style prefigures New Journalism.

Meanwhile, there was politics.

Kent’s career bestrode the Age of the Manifesto. The mad intensity of the ‘20s, the “almost complete breakdown of our whole industrial machine” in the ‘30s, and the escalating slide toward war of the ‘40s forced artist to become activist. As he explained in This Is My Own (1940), the first of two formal autobiographies (though all his writings are autobiographical),

I believe in Peace and, as a clear and never-failing voice for Peace, in Art. … I am ashamed of it; ashamed, … of my childlike innocence, my adolescent credulousness, my fatuous belief. Roosevelt and the New Deal – can’t we recall what faith we had in them in ’33? … Just let us live in peace. … Deeply and from my heart, in utter reverence I pray: God damn them all.

Pacifism and noninterventionism were about to be criminalized when in 1939 Kent was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee to explain his views and associations. He denied, honestly, being a Communist Party member, but would not disavow his red friends and associates, who were legion. For instance, he had designed posters for the IWW, contributed graphics to The Masses, slipped rebellious slogans into his WPA murals, and served as an official of the International Workers Order insurance society. In 1950 the government revoked his passport; and in 1953 the Orwellian-named “Permanent Investigations” Subcommittee tried to sweat him again on the subject. Senator McCarthy interrupted the artist’s defense by snapping, “I’ll not hear a lecture from you, Mr. Kent.” Kent retorted, “You certainly won’t – I get paid for my lectures!”

Emerging from this inquest, where he had refused to answer “Are you now or have you ever been?,” Kent was accosted by reporters who asked the same question. This time he chortled scornfully, “No I am not and have never been … and practically everybody knows that!” It was not until 1958 that the Supreme Court in a landmark decision ruled his passport be restored immediately.

After all the bad PR, however, Kent underwent what critic Edward Hoagland calls “steep neglect of his work.” Galleries and shows were closed to him, collectors no longer collected him. In 1960 he defiantly donated eighty paintings and ten times as many drawings and prints to the Soviet Union, where they repose to this day, in the Hermitage and Pushkin museums, among others. In 1967 the Soviets awarded him the Lenin Peace Prize, most of which he gave away to charities … in North Vietnam.

Rockwell Kent was a gadfly, and a bit of a crank, who “just wanted to be left alone”: an egotistical socialist, cosmopolitan isolationist, patriotic globalist, home-loving adventurer, Christian nature-worshipper, avant-garde antimodernist, philandering family man, “deeply misanthropic” humanitarian (per Hoagland), democratic individualist, ecstatic engineer, bon vivant laborer – in many ways the painterly equivalent of resistance poet Robinson Jeffers.

Between us moderns and men like Kent and Jeffers there is not just a cultural but an anthropological difference. The right-wing individualist of today is the social liberal of yesterday. But the likenesses between Kent and William Blake, born 125 years earlier, are so great that the former seems almost the latter’s reincarnation. Both were mystics, worshippers of Liberty, yearners after the natural and elemental Life, artists as well as philosophers, believers in Free Love, calligraphers as well as painters, illustrators of their own writings, accused of sedition, and hauled before tribunals. In addition Kent learned from Blake how to draw the “Human Form Divine.” Unlike Blake and most other Symbolists, however, Kent was adept at rendering individuals body and soul. His portraits of Greenlanders in Salamina (1935) are alive. Unlike fellow landscape artists Maynard Dixon and the Group of Seven, he caught not only that last thin yellow ray of Arctic sun on the shoulder of the mountain but well-wrought parties of humans and their gear. Kent’s vision of man in nature was an unusually balanced one, reflecting his own Renaissance balance of gifts.

Quoth a Renaissance proverb: “A cat may look at a king.” It is understood that feline nature disdains servility. British law goes so far as to define cats as “free spirits,” “wanderers” – unlike dogs, which are property that can stray and even trespass. Cats “are allowed to roam outside” and “are not considered domesticated animals” under American law as well. A Kent too may look at a king. His story, like the story of resisters such as Edward Snowden today, demonstrates the necessity for multiple power centers, especially as the world continues to massify into a smothering, elite-ridden globaloma. It is not necessary that the center chosen for refuge be 100% righteous – merely that it exist. The enemy of your enemy may not be your friend, but at least he differs from your enemy.

Rockwell Kent, the erstwhile communist, reposes beneath a stone that reads “This Is My Own” (from Scott’s “Breathes there a man with soul so dead/Who never to himself hath said,/’This is my own, my native land?’”). He died in 1971 on his Plattsburgh farm, called Asgaard after Nordic myth, just up the river from his New York birthplace, near the Vermont and Canadian borders.

A friend of Blake wrote after his death, “His aim single, his path straightforward, and his wants few; so he was free, noble, and happy. He was a man without a mask.” Rockwell Kent, too, lived a free man - one of the last of the Americans.

Monday, July 8, 2013

All the Rage

Marian Kester Coombs

February 2012-July 2013


Pity the poor immigrant: the newborn human infant. It has been forced from an Eden of One, a form-fitting world where all is provided and nothing demanded. From the moment it hits the outside air, it begins to suffer accelerated depreciation, like a brand-new car just driven off the lot. And so it subsides, writhing, degree by degree, a magnificent balloon losing heft and altitude until it lies full length upon the ground, in the “footprint” of its own grave ... "Oh, my beautiful wickedness! Ohhh, what a world, what a world … "

The litany of necessary losses (Judith Viorst's term, circa 1998) is one indignity heaped upon another. First let's name this tragic creature doomed to be tormented by such losses. Imperial Self - Infant Emperor - Infantile Narcissist - Infantile Megalomaniac - Raging Ego - how about Raging Infant? For to call a newborn’s inborn drive the “human spirit” or “élan vital” or "quest for identity" or "desire" or "passion" or even "lust" falls short: it is a burning Rage to live and to prevail against all comers, a brightly burning torch which the world immediately starts trying to quench. "You always know after you are two. Two is the beginning of the end," sighs J.M. Barrie in Peter Pan.

Once borne, the creature must now depend upon its Mother, a disturbingly capricious being, instead of the trusty umbilical cord. She can be … unreliable. Her services may be … intermittent. Her responses may leave … something to be desired … Civilization and its discontents!

Then the chill dawn of a suspicion: the creature must share this sketchy Mother with another - perhaps multiple others. The horror of a sibling may arise and threaten to eclipse its beautiful wickedness altogether. If that were not enough, it next appears that the Raging Infant must appease entities besides the Mother: it must not hog all the toys, it must not bite, it must play nicely. Meanwhile, as the outside world starts to intrude more rudely than ever, the Infant becomes acquainted with the quaint, absurd notion that it may not be considered the very best at everything, that it may not be universally adored, that it may in fact be judged and even rejected.

Come adolescence, and the unspeakable indignities only compound. In the crucial competition to start pairing off, some truly outrageous insinuations about the adequacy of the Infant may be made. Bullying is a fairly ruthless attempt by males to eliminate the competition of other males, and by females to do the same to other females. Yet at this very time the Infant is exhorted more and more to view itself with some baffling thing called “objectivity” or “relativity,” which only further curdles its narcissism.

Juvenile delinquency and criminality are often misinterpreted as acute insecurity and self-loathing, but are prompted by quite the opposite: injured amour-propre. Hell hath no fury like an ego scorned. Each individual is like a burnt offering to the god of his or her Self, dedicated to being – (worshipped) – recognized, remembered, identified, gratified, esteemed, admired, attended to, accepted, well-regarded, valued, cherished, loved, wanted, needed; to feeling proud, powerful, important, useful; and to mattering. Suicide is the ultimate bid to prove oneself God-like, by ending the world.

You may demur that not everybody is aflame at so high a temperature, and it’s true, there are degrees of Rage. William Blake thought that “Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained; and the restrainer or reason usurps its place & governs the unwilling.” In other words, the weak are too weak to be “bad” and the strong are too strong to be “good.” You can be a crazed egotist only to the extent of your own particular endowment of unholy energy. Or perhaps only to the extent you are unable to mask your egotism. Nietzsche certainly believed this, calling it the Will to Power.

In Winesburg, Ohio, the “grotesques” whom Sherwood Anderson introduces to us all have one thing in common: They are completely insane on the subject of themselves. One of the more sober grotesques interacts with Anderson’s “hero” thus:

When George Willard went to work for the Winesburg Eagle he was besieged by Joe Welling. Joe envied the boy. It seemed to him that he was meant by Nature to be a reporter on a newspaper. “It is what I should be doing, there is no doubt of that,” he declared, stopping George Willard on the sidewalk before Daugherty’s Feed Store. His eyes began to glisten and his forefinger to tremble. “Of course I make more money with the Standard Oil Company and I’m only telling you,” he added. “I’ve got nothing against you but I should have your place. I could do the work at odd moments. Here and there I would run finding out things you’ll never see.”

R.D. Laing wrote, “Yet all [the human heart] asks is that I let it love me, and not even that.” Sentimental nonsense! The human heart asks infinitely more than that. It demands to be loved, loved exclusively. It tells the Greatest Story Ever Told: itself! Its every action from the most banal intimate gesture to the most grandiose spectacle is a howl for attention to be paid: “My name is [your name here], King of Kings:/Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”

What’s the formula for success at any social gathering? Ask people about themselves, then actually (at least appear to) listen, and you will be accounted the most fascinating person on the planet. And what do you hear when people start to talk? That the world revolves around them, that but for the machinations of idiots they would be colossi, that had they only been heeded the world would be a wonderland, that they got a raw deal but lived to have the last laugh. Et cetera.

Fandom is but self-love writ large.

The Golden Rule is based on the frank acknowledgment that self comes first: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

"Love thy neighbor as thyself" recognizes the tenderness with which "thyself" is loved.
The tears we shed upon being moved by a heroic act of self-sacrifice are for the fact that by this act our own wickedness has been preserved.

The saintly selflessness of saints is the greatest egotism of all.

The hero or martyr for his part, like Achilles, actually prefers physical death to the death of his fame:

My mother Thetis tells me that there are two ways in which I may meet my end. If I stay here and fight, I shall lose my safe homecoming, but I will have a glory that is unwilting: whereas if I go home, my glory will die, but it will be a long time before death itself shall take me.

Even our grief at the loss of loved ones is self-pity for the blow to our own dear selves, our ego-armature, our possessions, our retinue. Our mourning is more than a little like the North Koreans hysterically bemoaning their dead leader, fearing ghostly (or political) revenge if they don’t. And mother-love is anything but selfless. The selfish gene, as Richard Dawkins called it, loves not just you but all your kind – nation, race, class, family – and is happy to rain death upon your enemies to advance its own fortunes.

To grow up is supposed to mean the progressive surrendering of infantile delusions of grandeur, but they are never, ever completely outgrown. “Anger issues” all stem from the thwarted Infant lashing out enraged at an uncooperative, indifferent world. “Road rage” is a special case: the encapsulation of the automobile creates a sort of hardened ego-state that proceeds to vigorously begrudge all other capsules the “right” of way, with much swerving, tailgating, sudden braking and other moves that act out the Infant’s intolerant reaction to others who dare get in its way.

Sociopaths (we all have some sociopath in us) are just infants masquerading as adults; nothing and no one is real to them except themselves. They never mean to hurt anyone – by which they mean they never meant to get caught or punished for hurting anyone. Drugs like Ecstasy, cocaine and heroin fleetingly recapture the infantile state of senseless bliss, absolute power, the amoeba-self engulfing an ecstatic world …

As deftly portrayed in Peter Pan, Mr. Darling throws an infantile tantrum over having to take some evil-tasting medicine and scapegoats the innocent Nana, thus making it possible for Peter to abscond with Wendy, John and Michael:

His proud heart was nearly bursting. … It was dreadful the way all the three [children] were looking at him, just as if they did not admire him. … It was all owing to his too affectionate nature, which craved for admiration.

Eventually the Infant finds someone willing to mutually “settle,” and real babies may come. The mirror that offspring hold up to the Infant is often unsettling – a frequent cause for divorce. In time the job proves disappointing, the boss is an *******, the career is not what it should be; and finally the Infant is compelled to notice that it is fairly rapidly being ushered out of the world - given the bum’s rush in fact – and that Death, the ultimate outrage, may dare to lay hands upon its beautiful wickedness. Et tu, Ego?

The aptly-named Me Generation or Baby Boom, 50 million tiny tyrants strong, disbelieves not only in death but in the fact of age itself. Youth is a right and aging an affront, the skunk at the garden party. Typical Boomers of both sexes have had multiple midlife crises by the time they hit 50. The author of the epigram “American lives have no second act” should have had in mind Boomers and their very rare transition from infancy to adulthood.

Were people less beautifully wicked in the past than they are now? History suggests that hard times – depressions, world wars, famines – force people to mature whether they want to or not, hence the eerie “adultness” of our parents’ and grandparents’ generations. They were so “grown up” (i.e., generous and giving toward us). They were “the Greatest.” Ronald Reagan reminded us of our dads.

Women, particularly those who’ve lived off their looks, have always clung more bitterly to Youth than men have, and may more readily be forgiven, since older women face such painful demotion in society. Female beauty is cruelly dependent on neoteny, the retention of juvenile characteristics, while men are permitted to get at least a bit craggy and silvery. George Orwell admired the tenacity of one beldame he encountered whilst Down and Out in Paris and London:

[She] was quite sixty years old, and she stood at the sink thirteen hours a day, six days a week, the year round; she was, in addition, horribly bullied by the waiters. … It was strange to see that in spite of her age and her life she still wore a bright blonde wig, and darkened her eyes and painted her face like a girl of twenty. So apparently even a seventy-eight-hour week can leave one with some vitality.

Men have greater trouble kicking true infantile narcissism than do women, however. It has been speculated that it’s easier for daughters to separate from their mothers, who are less jealous of “rivals” (suitors), but mothers may go on to be the authoresses of the most hopeless cases of narcissism in their sons. These enablers encourage their sons to see every problem as everyone’s fault but their own; each failure is excused, explained away, with many a sympathetic cluck and roll of the eye. Never does such a mother admit that "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,/But in ourselves, that we are underlings."

It’s dangerous to let the Infant out to play, but it’s fun at first, and so easy. Lovers tempt each other’s latent narcissism with coos of “Ooh, baby, baby.” Like waving a glass of Scotch under the nose of an alcoholic, this temptation can reawaken the Rage-prone inner infant with very unfortunate results, as thousands of estranged spouses and children could attest if they hadn’t been murdered. Look at the monstrous behavior of Nero, Caligula, Commodus and other Roman emperors; like all others given absolute power, they descended to absolute depravity.

Abortion is now a sacrament, the only one Infants care about. You might think they would identify with actual infants and want to protect the genuine version of themselves, but no, again the opposite is true. The Infant is mortally jealous of the young and loudly makes known it has no intention of ever saddling itself with any. Pets are the new kids, far more gratifying and adoring.

And what are economic bubbles but infantile wishful thinking? Something for Nothing! Sounds too good to be true, so we can’t help believing it! Besides, someone else will pay if it doesn’t pan out.

Like lovers, advertisers too play a role in seducing the Infant. “You deserve the best,” “What are you waiting for?,” “Go ahead – indulge yourself,” etc. Whatever you want is OK because You want it. Think of all that is now shrilly celebrated and once was frowned upon. TGIF, “snow days,” “I’d rather be ________ing [anything but working].” “Forbidden” “decadent” desserts, “Chocolate is good for you!,” junk food. Binge drinking, marijuana legalization, “spice.” Garbage mouth (“like” and “y’know,” cursing, obscenities) and rudeness. Tats, piercings, wacked-out hair, the unshaven just-got-outta-bed look. Comic books (“graphic novels”), video gaming, splatter movies, pornography, rap, gambling, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas!” and numberless other polymorphous perversions. The New York Times says the latest lesbian vampire flick possesses “a distinctive sensibility,” blah blah blah. It’s cool to be a nerd or geek or fanboy, not a man.

Of course acquiring the advertised product or service is unsatisfying because you can’t buy what you truly hunger for – power, admiration, indelibility – goods that must be freely bestowed by other people. The dissatisfaction with commodities fosters susceptibility to other forms of entitlement ideology. The political parties work ceaselessly to embolden bums and bum out responsible people. It’s the old shakedown: for the Poor, the Children, the Have-Nots, the Underprivileged, Fairness, Justice - all just crafty, indirect, passive-aggressive tactics for dominating and ripping off others. Observant philosophers have called the technique ressentiment, the superficial paradox of the “servant” lording it over the “master.”

Unearned affluence never satisfies, it just stimulates further demands, more discontent, more Rage. “Enough” has no meaning to the Infant. The entitlements pall quicker and quicker, until at last you have the Occupy movement howling about some mythical dearth of privileges and “hope.” They are literally incapable of being made to feel special enough.


Denial of recognition to individuals can be very dangerous. But even more dangerous is denial of recognition to entire groups within society, and to entire nations within the “global community.” What is a person or people not capable of when its self-love has been violated? It will plot to make endless war or at least endless mischief.

There is a very practical reason for the need to feel oneself wanted, valued and useful. The instinct to reign over all other wills is perfectly consonant with the drive of any social animal to be considered competent and thus essential to the group. Incompetent or inessential members are turned out or left by the wayside when the tribe or troop moves on. The Infant’s pugnacious “I can do it myself!” signals loud and clear “You need me, I can carry my own weight.”

Now we get to the positive life-affirming qualities of Raging Infancy.

It is the inner voice that shouts “Don’t go to sleep!” when you’re freezing, “Keep going!” when you’re about to drop from exhaustion, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light!” as Death approaches, "Next time's the charm!" when your latest love object eludes you. “Attention must be paid” is not just atrociously bad dialogue but human truth: we are, each and every one of us, precious and irreplaceable. If one of us is not, then none of us is. It is so because we are made to will it so. Our belief must correspond to something real and true about the universe, or else it would not have evolved and persisted.

Egotism must have huge survival value as well, since after a thousand thousand thousand years all beings continue to be born with it. It may be thought of as a fuel cell that powers even the tiniest creature throughout its life, “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower,” until the fuel at last runs out. To be born without the Rage is to be an egg without a yolk. Just as the body is not designed to eat only what it needs to merely subsist, so the self packs on “ego-fat” against the dark days of adoration-famine that are sure to come.

If you follow fearlessly the ancient advice to “Know thyself,” you will see this truth wherever you look, and it can only enhance the humbling intensity of your own experience of life. Robert Burns reworked the idea as “O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us/To see oursels as ithers see us!” But how little we should care to see ourselves thus …

The Rage is infinite, the ability to sate it, finite. “And in the end, the love you take/Is equal to the love you make” – a pretty thought. The Infant wants only one small thing: to feel important, admired and necessary. Is this so much, too much to ask? In a world of seven billion souls, is there not enough “positive regard” to go around? “Celebrities” receive far more than their share, a sometimes lethal dose, while most individuals starve on too little. It would seem there is not enough Love in the whole universe to meet that simple need to be esteemed.

Capitalism is the absolute worse system ever devised to order human affairs, except, of course, for all the others. Capitalism is the only economic system that even begins or pretends to accommodate man’s Rage (and Judeo-Christianity is one religion that compassionately acknowledges it, rewarding faith and reverence with ego-stroking wealth and success). Capitalism depends upon “naked” self-interest to power an engine of innovation and motivation that has made it a raging triumph for the past 300 years. Every man's home is his castle because Everyman is King. This philosophy is not "cynical" - it works because it is rooted in natural truth. In fact the more forcibly communitarian the society, the more darkly selfish the populace.Two words: Soviet Union.

“Capital” understands that human beings are overjoyed to slave away for their own and their kindred’s benefit. Hence its Declaration that each of us is "endowed by [the] Creator with certain unalienable Rights, [among which are] Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Tapping even a fraction of that free joy, that bottomless energy, that infinite taking of pains in the interest of the self is like harnessing nuclear reactions on the surface of the sun. And this is why, for all the catastrophes that mindless politicians are shoving us toward, we will rise phoenix-like from the flames of our own destruction, singed but singing yet the great ode of Life: Long live My Self!

Le Soleil, le foyer de tendresse et de vie,
Verse l'amour brûlant à la terre ravie ...

The Sun, of tenderness and life the hearth,
Pours burning love on the delighted earth - (Rimbaud)

Saturday, October 6, 2012


April 2004-August 2009-June 2012

            Remember Marshall McLuhan, the pop mass-media guru? To cite him now seems as dated as talk of Swinging London. But his insights - the global village, the medium is the message (or the "massage"), the interchangeability, instantaneity and simultaneity of electronic media - have been so thoroughly accepted and absorbed that they seem like self-evident truths.

            One of the points McLuhan made about television is that it's a "cool" medium, by which he meant passive, pacifying, one-way, noninteractive, the triumph of appearances. The TV emotes and orates, the spectator merely gazes, eyes glazing over. Haskell Wexler's 1969 film "Medium Cool" borrowed McLuhan's terminology to warn against a social order that turns even the most horrific events into "spectacular" entertainment.

            "Medium Cool" was shot documentary style during the riotous 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago; at one point the police lob a tear gas canister nearby and someone shouts, "Look out, Haskell, it's real!" The mob chants, "The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching!" In the last frames, Wexler films a car crash that abruptly wipes out some of his lead characters. He fixates on the scene, with no move to rush to the rescue, then slowly turns his camera upon the audience as though to accuse us ("Toi! Hypocrite voyeur!") of complicity.

            That same year (the famous Soixante-huit), Situationist theoretician Guy Debord was moved to write a related critique called Society of the Spectacle. Among its many theses:

The basically tautological character of the Spectacle [late capitalist society] flows from the simple fact that its means are at the same time its goal. It is the sun that never sets over the empire of modern passivity. It covers the entire surface of the world and bathes endlessly in its own glory. ...

The movement of banalization, under the shimmering diversions of the Spectacle, dominates modern society the world over and at every point where the developed consumption of commodities has multiplied the roles and the objects to choose from in appearance. ... The smug acceptance of that which exists can also be combined into one, with purely spectacular rebellion: this translates the simple fact that dissatisfaction itself became a commodity as soon as economic abundance was able to extend its production to the treatment of such a raw material. ...

The Spectacle is the preservation of unconsciousness within the practical change of conditions of existence. ...

Separation is the alpha and the omega of the Spectacle. ...

The success of the economic system of separation is the proletarianization of the world.

                                                                            (Translation by Black & Red, 1970)

            Had trouble following this typically French effusion of hyperbole and abstract dogmatism/dogmatic abstraction? No problem: I will now try to trace the singular evolutionary history of Cool. For it may well be a "simple fact" that capitalist development inevitably "objectifies" all human existence into falsity and unreality and alienation and living death, but it accomplishes this by material and not by abstract means.

            First, to define our term.

            "Cool" has long been and remains our society's sovereign aesthetic and highest accolade. Back in my grandparents’ day, to say with a certain emphasis “That’s fine” was to confer hearty approval; “fine” has now drifted into meaning “OK.” Many another slang modifier has come and gone - copacetic, peachy, swell, dandy, keen, sharp, neat, nifty, swift, sweet, far out, gone, wild, crazy, outtasight, boss, wicked, groovy, fab, gear, super, right-on, rad, tite, tuff, gnarly, awesome, mad, brilliant, fly, ba-aad, gangsta, phat. But Cool has endured. It has outlasted its old antagonist, "square." Even the venerable "hip" (not to mention hip's once red-hot mama "hep," which predates the 1890s) now comes equipped with quotation marks like a pair of crutches. Only Cool is the timelessly in term for "in," the equivalent of "ideal" as well as the code word for "unbeatable." Cool is the preferred term even in foreign languages, Spanish, French, Italian, German: It is too Cool to need translation. It is the world's coolest word for Cool.

            A person can be Cool, as can a thing or a whole situation: "Hey, it's Cool." One's Cool can be kept, or lost. You play it Cool until you blow your Cool. "Be Cool" is always excellent advice. To be unable to stay Cool is very, very - unCool. Cats, compared to dogs, are Cool. Smoking cigarettes is Cool, even if you don’t smoke Kools.

            Cool has had many deployments over the centuries. The most heated passion can cool off. Revenge has long been a dish best served up cold. Sangfroid was considered a fine attribute by the French, so indispensable a word that the English borrowed it without translation. For “cooler heads to prevail” was a welcome outcome. But the low temperature of cold-blooded murder was not so welcome; better to have been hot-blooded and thus escape the penalty of death.

            In The American Language, H.L. Mencken (who is trustworthy save on the subject of bathtub gin) traced the emergence of Cool's modern connotations to the early 20th-century subculture of gangs and juvenile delinquency. As the ethnic composition of urban gangs shifted, so did the usage of various slang terms. At its earliest, being "cool" apparently referred to "restraint in manner or dress," in contrast to the flashier fashions of the nouveau riche underworld. As a black urban underclass began to grow and take shape, the Cool Cat was born, and Cool came to mean a kind of feigned physical depletion: “[S]ex, it is believed, depletes physical strength and hence many cats affect languorous movements, even to a limp handshake, in order to avoid being classed as [not having had sex recently]," wrote Mencken. He neatly nailed the type:

A cool cat - and all aspire to this temperature - is one who knows he has stumbled on the basic truths and eternal verities and is always well organized within, cautious but not fearful, reserved, inarticulate, and much of the time stoned on wine, pot ... , heroin, or an overdose of Zen Buddhism. [Emphases in original.]

            Cool is pure ideology, a word/idea with perennial power to evoke some enviable, desirable, impregnable state of being. The ultimate fantasy, it has developed a thousand shades of covert, coded meaning that resonate within the modern psyche and its symbols. The secret self-portrait of Cool that emerges is:  calm and collected, Apollonian, poised, unaffected by others, judgment-proof, closed yet loose, relaxed yet vigilant, disengaged, reserved, removed, unmoved, impervious, imperturbable, detached, unattached, unreceptive, nonreactive, unresponsive, uninvolved, disinterested, uninterested, objective, noncommittal, unsentimental, aloof, uncommitted, blank, neutral, immune, sated, languid, unflappable, dispassionate, impassive, passive, evasive, elusive, clinical, incurious, unconcerned, untouched, unreachable, inviolate, self-sufficient, nerveless, unfeeling, emotionless, indifferent, uncaring, ungiving, withholding, withdrawn, distant, remote, superior, skeptical, disillusioned, ironic, agnostic, latent, undeclared, hidden, guarded, alien, separate, asocial, insular, impersonal, opaque, standoffish, unruffled, unsympathetic, unenthusiastic, negative, rejecting, sneering, disdainful, vaguely contemptuous, faintly amused, cruel, cynical, bored, amoral, reptilian, bloodless, heartless, tough, hard, frigid. (Did I mention “cold”?)

            Cool is a stance - of ironic distance, of implied critique, of a kind of paradoxical Outsider superiority. Coolest of both worlds:  untouchable Insider and untouchable Outsider. The face of Cool is a mask of irony. The facial muscles are slack, impassive, the eyes neither fully open nor fully focused (certainly not upon you), the mouth unyielding, unreadable. It is the face of the dominant partner in a social exchange, of one with higher status confronted by an inferior, of the passive-aggressive bully.

            For this is why Cool is so prized: In a world full of people desperate for just one blessed drop of recognition, the refusal to recognize confers and conveys immense power. In any contest, the one who cares least about the outcome has the advantage. To dredge up another hoary old relic, Transactional Analysis, Cool means never having to give as much as, much less more than, you take in a “social transaction.” It is your infallible guide to Okayness: I’m okay, you’re not okay. Beneath the mask, of course, lurks constant wariness: Am I getting over? What can I do to reinforce the message?

            When and where does this attitude first invade Western culture? When does it rise to predominance? It is certainly present in the fatal wit of Oscar Wilde. In the specifically American cultural experience, a Cool sneer becomes detectable among the “social” novelists and poets after the Civil War, most markedly in the biting sarcasm of Ambrose Bierce and the later Mark Twain. The timing of this phenomenon reminds us that war has a vast coarsening effect upon society. Zane Grey lamented this fact after World War I; and post-World War II American society was as unlike its predecessor as the latter was unlike Puritan New England. The Vietnam War mainlined drugs, obscene language and nihilism into the culture as never before.

            One particular poem from the 1890s, assigned to be read by generations of American secondary school students, offers a kind of template of Cool: Edward Arlington Robinson’s “Richard Corey.”

He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim ...
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place. ...
And Richard Corey, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

            How different is the tone of this poem from others that treated tragically or heroically of life and death and used to be widely memorized and recited. Collins’ “How Sleep the Brave,” Bryant’s “Thanatopsis,” Henley’s “Invictus,” Housman’s “To an Athlete Dying Young,” Burns’ “Sweet Afton,” Brooke’s “The Soldier,” Hopkins’ “Spring and Fall: To a Young Child,” Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar.” The tone of “Richard Corey” is callous and contemptuous. It foreshadows the culture of mockery that rules us now. Not all of Robinson’s poetry is like “Richard Corey,” but he is best remembered for it and for the equally mocking “Miniver Cheevy.”

            A similar effect was produced by Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology (1915), subtly snide epitaphs of fellow citizens at rest in the graveyard of a small Illinois town. How easy it proved to mock the dead. In 1919 Sherwood Anderson extended the technique to the vignettes of his influential Winesburg, Ohio, with its compulsive, repetitive listing of "grotesques." By 1921 Sinclair Lewis had built an entire novel, Main Street, on a sneering dismissal of Midwestern “boosterism.” And thenceforth in novel after novel (then film after film), as has been noted many times, the Antihero begins to avert his world-weary gaze from the tedious melodrama of the masses. Even when he wants and needs to be a hero - even when the script requires it, as in “Casablanca” or “Shane” - the code of Cool demands that he wrap himself in many layers of reluctance, cynicism, alienation, mixed motives, split decisions and ambivalence.

            Satire and social criticism, of course, are important, valid goals of literature, and irreverent or crusading impulses have animated much great art from earliest times. Rabelais and Cervantes made fun of the human comedy, as had Aristophanes long before them. There are none more unsparingly severe than Hugo, Zola or Dostoyevsky, nor more sensitive to injustice that Byron or Shelley or Flaubert or Dickens or Tolstoy, nor more alive to the absurdity of human beings than Shaw, Shakespeare, Balzac or Moliere. But the stance of these writers was not Cool; it was at worst one of outrage against cruelty, hypocrisy, abuse of power and the tragic waste of human hopes. Humanistic satire has a particular, definable aim, a wrong it seeks to redress, while Cool is fundamentally idle, training its sights on everything indiscriminately. All that Cool seeks is that triumphant “Gotcha!” moment, no matter what it takes to achieve. Cool serves no moral purpose, even as it pretends to a deliberately vague moral superiority.

             (Dostoyevsky, for example, presaged Cool in the nihilism of the Underground Man, whose fate was to be convinced that "Nothing matters." In the great spiritual wrestling match that is Notes from Underground, never resolved is the question "Which is better - cheap happiness or exalted sufferings? Well, which is better?")

            The demimonde of jazz and junk in the 1930s and 40s was a genuine Cool scene, later worshipfully recreated by the small bohemian enclaves of the Beats in their “gone” world. There the slow-developing, mainstream Cool of the Antihero began to join forces with an actual subculture. The ideal became real. Norman Mailer’s bizarre essay “The White Negro” and pulp fiction like Warren Miller’s The Cool World (1959) about black gang life are must reading in order to comprehend how Cool was a sensibility originally copped by burnt-out white “artists” off heroin-numbed black hustlers (shades of Mencken’s original observation). The flat affect and dead eyes of Cool were born right there, among a bunch of losers aping junkies.

            The actor Jon Voight was recently on TV trying to describe how the youth of his generation responded to Marlon Brando in “The Wild One” (1953), and all he could say, gushing like a teenage girl, was “Y’know he was so cool, y’know? Just so cool. And you wanted to be like that - to be cool.” Brando himself, as Johnny in the film, tries to describe Cool to a square: “Now if you gonna stay cool, you got to wail. You got to put somethin' down. You got to make some jive. Don't you know what I'm talkin' about?” Thus another synonym for Cool might be “inarticulate.” In fact Cool joins “like” and “y’know” in a menage a trois of modern incoherence.

            To declare something Cool, however, pretty much ends the discussion. The power to confer Coolness upon something is the ultimate power; once Cool is invoked, there is really nothing more to say.

            Cool recrudesces constantly. Richard Barnes’ book Mods! spots it in early 1960s London, a sighting that fits Guy Debord’s critique of commodity fetishism and the hegemony of appearances to a T:

The Mod way of life consisted of total devotion to looking and being ‘Cool.’ Spending practically all your money on clothes and all your after work hours in clubs and dance halls. ...

...Mods had their own style of walking. They swayed their shoulders and took short steps, with their feet slightly turned out. It was more of a swagger, a walk of confidence. They’d sometimes have their hands held together behind their backs under their coats or plastic macs and these would sway as they bowled along. ...

...They were incredibly vain, a bit snobbish and totally narcissistic. ... [A Mod] remembers, ‘You’d have to look totally relaxed, but right. You’d have to pose, so you sort of slouched, you put your leg against the wall. To look cool, you’d put your hands in your Levi’s or your jacket pocket with your thumbs sticking out.’

            The folk duo Simon and Garfunkel set “Richard Corey” to music in the mid-1960s, but before that, Bob Dylan was specializing in the same kind of cheap and easy, once-over-lightly character assassination, with a built-in vocal jeer that matched perfectly. In song after Dylan song, “she” is pathetic, “he” is clueless, and “you” (the unCool) are just plain pitiable. Meanwhile, “Something is happening and you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?” Bu we do, Dylan’s initiates could gloat. Of course they didn’t really, but the trick was to smirk knowingly at the right moments. “Now little boy lost, he takes himself so seriously, he brags of his misery, he likes to live dangerously.” No moral outlook, nothing at all unifies these random critiques - nothing but idle malice.

            Dylan’s sly, whining method was easily imitated and proved quite addictive to the new generation of pop musicians. Even the warm-hearted Beatles toyed with Cool in such songs as “Eleanor Rigby” and “She’s Leaving Home.” Yet those songs were compassionate vignettes compared to the nyah-nyah-nyah of the Dylan tradition. Paul McCartney’s advice to Jude, “Don’t you know that it’s a fool who plays it cool by making the world a little colder?,” will stand forever as the credo of the Beatles.

            Irreverence is naturally corrosive. “Cast a cold eye on life, on death,” and in time looks can kill. In this Current Era of ours, literature, art, film, journalism, comedy, pop music and pop culture are all choking in a poison gas attack of unearned disdain.

            But recent research by psychiatrist Ilan Dar-Nimrod, published in the Journal of Individual Differences (2012), found "that coolness has lost so much of its historical origins and meaning - the very heavy countercultural, somewhat individualistic pose." A thousand respondents to his survey on Cool tended to define it as being "nice to people, attractive, confident, and successful" - not to mention "friendly" and "trendy." Dar-Nimrod contrasted this with the "darker version" of Cool exemplified by the Nowhere Man, the Rebel Without a Cause, the Misfit.

            Cool has continued making massive inroads into youth culture with the Punk movement of the 1970s, up to the present day. One memorable epithet for the aesthetic of Punk was “vacant stranger.” As one early observer of the scene wrote (in Street Art: The Punk Poster in San Francisco 1977-1981):

Going to these gigs is like gathering to inspect the latest output of damaged goods. ... The music functions as a mutagen. It isn’t music - or rather, music is not the point. Nor it is ritual. There is no tribe. Separation is being celebrated here: you bask in splendid, mutually crafted solitude. ...

What happens at these gigs? You learn the etiquette of overcrowding, how to dance with a pronounced Brownian motion. The emotions your parents could afford to buy you have become dysfunctional in a world like this one; what more useful skill to pick up than numbness? Once you have that down you can begin to practice auto-behavior modification. ... The pursuit of happiness has mutated, transvalued into the pursuit of loneliness.

            As with Edgar Lee Masters’ mockery of the defenseless dead, the rule of Cool depends very much upon dodging retaliation, being “judgment-proof.” Cool’s favorite ruse is to be so subtle and deadpan that its victims are scarcely aware they’re being attacked. Comedy, by definition passive-aggressive (“Heh heh, can’t take a joke?, “Hey, just kidding”), is the ideal vehicle for such occult assaults.

            Voted #1 of the “50 Greatest Shows of All Time” by TV Guide in 2002, the late lamented “Seinfeld” was not long ago the utmost depth and outer limit of Cool. Jerry’s underhanded ridicule of everything, especially anything noble, heartfelt or sincere, was not a “show about nothing” but a show about how ridiculously unCool you are for believing in anything or expecting anything but baseness from others. Particularly loathsome was Jerry’s nervous little rictus after each “hilarious” putdown, as if to say “I can’t believe it, I’m getting away with murder here...”

            Keith Haring thought the Coolest thing about people was the little chalk outlines they left behind when they died. Somewhat later anatomist/sculptor Gunther von Hagens discovered that the dead themselves - flayed, preserved and sliced like summer sausage - were the Coolest of all media. Another depth of Cool was reached with the Anna Nicole Smith show - think of all those people who watched in the hope she’d melt down again on camera. And when she actually dropped dead – Coolissima!

            These depths have been exceeded many times in the intervening years. Snark is everywhere. The epithet “fail” is combined with every thing under the sun. What is the cult of “Grey Gardens” but a Cool mirthless laugh at two lonely old dames? Aside from the plethora of reality shows and vampire shows and celebrity-dishing shows and snarky faux-news shows, there is also the phenomenon of “forensic” shows, rivaling one another to revel in their ability to see human bodies as so much dead meat (“CSI,” “NCIS,” “Bones,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Dexter,” “Law and Order,” etc.). Such displays immunize viewers against empathy the same way violent video games inure players to bloody murder. The face of everyday life is already blank and averted; the Lonely Crowd has become the autistic crowd. Cool has chilled the heart of our culture to the point where, to use one of Cool’s favorite phrases, it has “assumed room temperature.”

            John Berger and the deconstructionists and others have made much of the Gaze: the social calculus of who may look at whom, in what way, for how long, for what reason. Berger noted that in “bourgeois” oil painting, objects - rare tulips, food, dogs, horses, women - are arrayed for the viewer’s eye to possess and consume; they are objectified. The painted women gaze forth in response to the gazer/prospective buyer, “betraying” the painted men next to them. But still more objectifying and depersonalizing is the averted gaze of Cool. Most news, fashion and portrait photographs now show the subject(s) with eyes and face turned elsewhere. Because there is something so much more interesting than you are, just outside the frame. ...

            The runway model’s blank puss rivals the “thousand-yard stare” of the shell-shocked Marine for distance and removal and “gone”-ness. The skeletal appearance (what Tom Wolfe called the “social x-ray”) of a Kate Moss has rightly been termed the Auschwitz Look, but her comatose regard emits the catatonia of Cool. It’s the same smug-ugly expression on the mugs of all those hiphop thugs gyrating on MTV and BET and VH1. And more often than not the face is entirely effaced by wrap-around shades.

            Yet even Cool can be subjected to the Cool treatment: the Coolest now spell and pronounce it “kewl.” Variants of Cool are “chill out” and “Just chillax.” Ask America’s youngsters what they’re up to today, and if they answer at all, they’ll mutter, “Just chillin’.” Since our chilled children are set loose to spend what one author has called their “$100 billion allowance,” marketers are being exhorted to create “ever-Cool” products that will magically brand themselves upon kids’ icy little hearts. Today’s “neo-Punk” franchise is so Cool it’s freezing. Although it’s tough to top the L.A. punk band Fear’s 1970s lyric “Let’s have a war! So you can go die!,” the new bands are still grimly trying. The few that don’t try, that manage to slip in a bit of warmth, are branded “emo,” and you’d swear the term was lifted from A Clockwork Orange until you realize no one’s read it.

            (Actually the latest wrinkle on Cool is not “chill” but “sick.” If something’s sick, it’s, like, soooo Cool.)

            Any Punk emporium in any shopping mall in America today sells shirts, decals, posters, pins, tattoos and patches with messages like:

“I don’t mean to be rude. Actually, yes I do.”

“Love sucks.”

“You suck and that’s sad.”

“I’m not antisocial. I just don’t like you.”

“You forgot to ask if I care.”

“I’m sorry. My fault. I forgot you were an idiot.”

“It’s funny till someone gets hurt - then it’s hilarious.”

“When I grow up I want to be the exact opposite of you.” (Dylan said it first, in “Positively 4th Street”: “Yes I wish that just one time/You could stand inside my shoes/You’d know what a drag it is/To see you.”)

“Rejoice for we have horrified and repulsed them.”

“If I looked like you I’d have to kick my own ass!”

“Oh crap. You’re going to try and cheer me up, aren’t you?”

            Most of these messages (add your own favorites here) are preemptive strikes of the You-can’t-fire-me-I-quit type, but the last one gives the game away a bit. A lot of those Cool kidz would like to be cheered up - they just don’t think it’s possible any more, or that anyone would care to, and they’re steeling themselves to endure that eventuality. An understandable precaution. Cool is a “self-esteem” so armored that nothing can hurt or even touch you any more. It’s what the world would be like if high school never ended and no one ever grew up, a world run by soulless adolescents where fewer and fewer adults emerge to light the way out of the endless night of jive and screwups.

            What Cooler world could there be, then, than one full of zombies, vampires, robots or mummies? The mounting craze for these ultra-Cool customers - “undead” or “living dead” - extends the Cool aesthetic about as far as it can go. There are now actually rival camps of followers: Some get off only on vampires, some are unmoved by anything but zombies. And there are “slow” and “fast” zombies to choose between. Slow ones are the traditional sort that starred in George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead.” The fast ones are more recent, and are typically produced by toxic or nuclear means (“28 Days Later,” “I Am Legend,” etc.). Girls prefer vampires, boys prefer zombies, and nerds prefer robots. The novel Pride, Prejudice and Zombies makes the craze retroactive to the era of Jane Austen, and History Is Dead: A Zombie Anthology (“a vicious timeline chronicling the rise of the undead”) is even more ambitious. It won’t be long before the entire past has been cannibalized by Cool.

            Don’t laugh. Barack Hussein Obama was elected almost solely on the basis of what a “cool customer,” in Charles Krauthammer’s words, he was perceived to be.  JFK was also perceived as upping America’s Cool quotient, although he seems a titan of statecraft compared with the current regime. Cool, and therefore also a Cool candidacy, need have nothing to do with truthfulness, tough decision-making, fairness, effectiveness, practicality, reason, logic or any of that stuff, and everything to do with style, perception and vicarious pseudo-membership in the In Crowd.

            Cool tactics, derived chiefly from the 1971 handbook Rules for Radicals by “community organizer” Saul Alinsky, propelled Barack Obama to power. In addition to the famous “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it” [emphasis added], Alinsky’s manual for overturning society features Rule #5: “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. It is almost impossible to counter-attack ridicule. Also, it infuriates the opposition, who then react to your advantage.” Alinsky and his acolytes understand the unnerving psychology of Cool ridicule, its maddeningly “untouchable” underhandedness.

            Rule #10 notes that “All effective action requires the passport of morality. ... You do what you can with what you have and clothe it with moral arguments ... Moral rationalization is indispensable at all times of action whether to justify the selection or the use of ends or means.” Simulating the “warm” attributes of faith, liberality, generosity, idealism, compassion, altruism and so forth, the Cool candidate can always appear morally superior to anything; he doesn’t have to worry about the real-world consequences of his ideas or actions; he is free to wag his finger and purse his lips at the least flaw in his opponent without fear of hypocrisy or self-contradiction. Traditional types just don’t get this; they’re playing by the old pre-Cool rules. They still think their opponent cares about something. Caring is the Achilles heel of the unCool.

            Victor Davis Hanson in his column “The Power of Cool” (National Review Online, 5/23/12) nails this political usage right on the head:

We simply don’t mind that Google and Amazon rake in billions, but we despise Exxon and Archer Daniels Midland for doing the same. It is not that we need social networking and Internet searches more than food and fuel, but rather that we have the impression that cool zillionaires in flipflops are good while uncool ones in wingtips are quite bad.

            Ridicule is a double-edged sword, though. There is only one thing to which ever-ridiculing Cool is vulnerable, and that’s ridicule itself. This is why it is so important to Obama’s aggressively humorless handlers that he (and his wife) never be seen in even the most slightly ridiculous light. Once laughter other than the type permitted (proactive, self-deprecatory, controlled, silkily arrogant) bubbles forth, there’s no telling where it will lead, how loud it will get, what might become visible. The worst enemy of the Big Lie is the Big Laugh.

            They who live by Cool, die by Cool. Since one of the synonyms of Cool is “fickle,” it comes as little surprise to read in The New York Times, a mere nine months after Obama’s election, the following:

Last week, if you wanted to use the latest slang to tell a friend he was cool, you could have called him ‘Obama,’ as in: ‘Dude, you’re rocking the new Pre phone? You are so Obama.’

This week? Best not to risk it.

The sudden shift in meaning has nothing to do with the fortunes of the president [really?], regardless of what the health care debate may do to his cool factor. The fault rests entirely with what has happened to the life span of slang, which seems to shorten with every click of the mouse.

... [Jonathon] Green said that, when he was a hippie in England in the 1960s, ‘the language that we were using was in fact the language of 1930s black America, though very few of us were aware of this.’

Back then, ‘it took 20, 30 years to cross the Atlantic,’ he said. ‘The difference now is it takes 20 to 30 hours.’

            Meanwhile, Occupy Wall Street “veteran” Rami Shamir lines up outside Apple’s Fifth Avenue store, not to buy the new iPhone, but to protest: “Apple sells cool,” charges Mr. Shamir, “but there is nothing cool about how Apple treats its workers overseas.”

            Yet Cool glides on, unchanging as Dorian Gray, impervious to shifting fashions, a living contradiction of the “accepted wisdom among linguists that once a word actually shows up in a slang dictionary [of which there are now dozens], it effectively ceases to be slang,” as the above Times article notes. Perhaps this is because its very name states so clearly what it means. In the end, Cool is a strain of the Cult of Death – Thanatos - that reappears throughout human social history. But that is a topic beyond my focus here.


            After such an indictment of our world’s infantile idolatry of Cool, it comes as a shock to realize there is a state of being beyond the frozen pose of Cool that might be called, for lack of a better word, True Cool. But of course there is no lack of a better word, because this venerated state of being long predates the cult of Cool. Integrity, perhaps? Thumos? Which the Greeks defined as "anger" or "spirit," and Plato symbolized as "the lion among men" who "confronts misfortune in all cases with steadfast endurance" and "holds fast to the orders of reason about what he ought or ought not to fear, in spite of pleasure and pain"?

            Valor? Virtue? Mettle? Guts? Heart? Character? What the Scots call “feck” or Northern Brits call “gorm”?

            We see an extended treatment of this state of being in Tom Wolfe's study of The Right Stuff. Astronaut Cool is an “ineffable quality” that Wolfe nonetheless tries to “eff”:

As to just what this ineffable quality was . . . well, it obviously involved bravery. But it was not bravery in the simple sense of being willing to risk your life. The idea seemed to be that any fool could do that, if that was all that was required, just as any fool could throw away his life in the process. No, the idea here (in the all-enclosing fraternity) seemed to be that a man should have the ability to go up in a hurtling piece of machinery and put his hide on the line and then have the moxie, the reflexes, the experience, the coolness, to pull it back in the last yawning moment — and then to go up again the next day, and the next day, and every next day, even if the series should prove infinite — and, ultimately, in its best expression, do so in a cause that means something to thousands, to a people, a nation, to humanity, to God. Nor was there a test to show whether or not a pilot had this righteous quality. There was, instead, a seemingly infinite series of tests. A career in flying was like climbing one of those ancient Babylonian pyramids made up of a dizzy progression of steps and ledges, a ziggurat, a pyramid extraordinarily high and steep; and the idea was to prove at every foot of the way up that pyramid that you were on of the elected and anointed ones who had the right stuff and could move higher and higher and even — ultimately, God willing, one day — that you might be able to join that special few at the very top, that elite who had the capacity to bring tears to men's eyes, the very Brotherhood of the Right Stuff itself.

            As one fan of the book put it, "[Wolfe] has extracted this mysterious quality - guts, machismo, the it factor, coolness - from certain historical personages and events, and has portrayed it simply and beautifully as if he were a poet sociologist from another planet."

            This quality also forms the beating heart of the Western genre: Cowboy Cool, the code of the West. It appears in the first Westerns, such as Owen Wister’s The Virginian (1903):

            "Your bet, you son-of-a--."
The Virginian's pistol came out, and his hand lay on the table, holding it unaimed. And with a voice as gentle as ever, the voice that sounded almost like a caress, but drawling a very little more than usual, so that there was almost a space between each word, he issued his orders to the man Trampas:

‘When you call me that, smile!’

And he looked at Trampas across the table. Yes, the voice was gentle. But in my ears it seemed as if somewhere the bell of death was ringing; and silence, like a stroke, fell on the large room.

            The greatest of all Western novelists, Zane Grey, created a character in one of his earliest books who’s the granddaddy of all cowboy heroes – the “gun-man” Lassiter:

‘Easy--easy--I ain't interferin' yet,’ replied the rider. The tone of his voice had undergone a change. A different man had spoken. Where, in addressing Jane, he had been mild and gentle, now, with his first speech to Tull, he was dry, cool, biting.

‘I've jest stumbled onto a queer deal. Seven Mormons all packin' guns, an' a Gentile tied with a rope, an' a woman who swears by his honesty! Queer, ain't that?’

‘Queer or not, it's none of your business,’ retorted Tull.

‘Where I was raised a woman's word was law. I ain't quite outgrowed that yet.’

                                                            (from Riders of the Purple Sage, 1912)

We also sense this higher concept of Cool in Paul McCartney's recent formulation: "Be cool and you’ll be all right. That’s rock & roll religion” (Rolling Stone, 3/1/12). McCartney is one rock star who has never brought shame upon himself, and whose style is not to act out Cool decadence but to endlessly create (mostly) good music, “silly love songs” included.
            The single greatest cause for the veneration of Cool? Its scarcity. The more people are obsessed with something, the less of it there must be.


            How can young kids be turning into jaded connoisseurs of cynical boredom? It’s certainly not due to traumas like plague, famine, locust horde, grinding poverty or civil war. Cynical boredom has been force-fed them by mass culture’s state-of-the-art operant conditioning. This is ressentiment’s greatest triumph: to have turned the Outsider into the arbiter of our civilization’s very future.

            But the cultural elite that sold us Cool will only savor a Pyrrhic victory, having groomed subjects who will neither overthrow nor uphold their own society, who would not lift a finger to save the world as they have been conditioned to despise it. Mainstream nihilism is not a philosophy that breeds warriors for the “cause” of corporate globalism (or is it global corporatism?). The nightmare of Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man has come true: The kids have discovered (with a little help from MTV) that “Nothing matters.” They can’t just be bidden to rise up against the enemy du jour. That would require far too much hot-blooded ardor. Patriotism, like any other emotional certainty, is way unCool. For this reason, reinstatement of the military draft - this time for both or rather all “genders” - must be part of the elite’s game plan.

            Perhaps there is still hope, the dawning of a new idealism among our youth as Western Civ faces its greatest challenge yet. Perhaps they can shake off the miasma of Cool long enough to see what they stand to lose if they can’t defend the traditions they hold in such bored contempt. Perhaps “emo” is even now quickening in their hearts, primed to start functioning like a proper countertendency. Then again, perhaps not. But isn’t it pretty to think so?