Kings of Nothing: Steve King, Geert Wilders, and Western Civilization

“[Dutch Prime Minister candidate Geert] Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”
Rep. Steve King, Twitter

“They’re importing a different culture, a different civilization — and that culture and civilization, the imported one, rejects the host culture…They are supplanting Western civilization with Middle Eastern civilization.”
Rep. Steve King, speaking to Breitbart

If I were “Western Civilization” on trial, I would not want Rep. Steve King as my defense attorney. That would be like Ben Affleck defending “Acting”, Guy Fieri defending “Eating Vegetables”, or Kim Jong-un defending “Not Being So Crazy You Make Charles Manson Sound Like Neil deGrasse Tyson”).

Rep. Steve King is correct, if you accept that “Western Civilization” is more of a narrative construct than a real thing — that means if you buy into post-modern thought, narrative constructs, the inherent subjectivity of all human experience (all those being things that Rep. King probably wants to cram into a rocket and blast into the sun revolving around a flat earth).

In that sense, the experience of “Western Civilization” under attack is really the experience of people who are suffering real and perceived harm from changes — “how you feel about the world and your place in it” changes, quality of living changes, “affordability of essential healthcare” changes, “competition for resources and jobs and money” changes, “the old ways don’t work for me anymore” changes, etc.

But Rep. Steve King is scientifically and historically ignorant about “Western Civilization” when measured by his own standards, the instruments & intellectual schools of thought central to (and emergent from) that very same “Western” Tradition:

  • e.g. the Socratic method, Judeo-Christian religion, Newtonian physics, Aristotelian inquiry
  • e.g. the language and numbers of demographics, anthropology, math — measured with the naked eye and augmented with technology

Rep. King is also politicizing that ignorance, something frowned upon by every “Western” icon from Moses to Mr. Winston Churchill.

Let’s set aside for now the idea of “restoring” something that never really existed. As if “Western Civilization” is some kind of older Operating System that we rashly replaced on all of our computers and smartphones, but can reinstall from a sacred backup (somewhere in “the cloud”)…because <SARCASM> an Operating System has nothing to do with the physical constraints of resources, a device’s purpose, the users, etc. </SARCASM>. Keep shoving that punch card into the HDMI slot.

You have to wonder about where Rep. King situates “Western Civilization” in earth’s geography and timeline, and its relationship to everything else. Is this a mashup of Evolution and Eschatology, where nothing precedes WC and nothing but destruction can follow it?

Is WC part of the same demographics of human migration out of Africa, where we now know humans first began working with tools for material function (industry) *and* artistic expression (intelligence)?

Is WC the same unified entity that has fought millennia of wars among itself over land, resources, power, trading rights, religious authority, and sometimes even just pride — including a war that almost ended with mutually assured nuclear annihilation (depending on whether you count the USSR/Russia as a member of “Western Civilization”, which Rep. King might because of their antagonistic engagement with Muslims)?

Is WC as incompatible with “someone else’s babies” as the mammals whose communities must continually bring new & foreign DNA into the gene pool — in order to stay healthy, productive, competitive, and resilient to environmental changes?

Is WC part of the same “host culture” as the Romans were to Judeo-Christianity, a Middle Eastern religious culture that so totally intertwined itself with the Roman Empire that it even today influences patterns of governance, trade, warfare and diplomacy?

Is WC part of the same intellectual history of Perception v.s. Reality as depicted by Greek playwright Sophocles in Antigone, where a mentally damaged tyrant hides his abuse of power and suppression of dissent with a distorted idea of “tradition”?

What would happen if people like Rep. King would really examine “Western Civilization” today on its own terms — as scientifically honest as Galileo, as intellectually critical as a Plato or a Socrates, as concerned with its soul as a Jesus, as mathematically exact as an Einstein, as precisely described as a Leonardo Da’Vinci, as unscrupulously analyzed as a Machiavelli, as economically minded as an Adam Smith, as politically passionate as a Lincoln or a Kennedy or a Reagan?

Then he would have to look at the facts, all of the facts, as they really are now. He would have to use every applicable tool and framework. He would have to factor in the known as well as unknown. He would even have to factor in new theories of the mind and of the history of the earth and the living things that inhabit it.

Then Rep. King would have to look at “Western Civilization” as a narrative in the context of a larger narrative of Life and Luck, where people do really struggle to make good decisions against a world of physical restraints, biological impulses, natural-environmental pressures, cultural influences, institutional obstacles, etc.

Then Rep. King would have to look at “Western Civilization” as a framework or story to describe the experience of a particular self-identifying group that emerges successfully out of unique conditions, conditions that are definitely not totally controlled by that group (there’s a reason the Europeans were so fond of “Divine Providence”, especially when finding North America, a continent so exquisitely abundant with natural wealth and strong ocean barriers against invading armies).

Even if he just wanted to look at the experienced narrative of “Western Civilization”, he would have to admit that underlying the superficial “clash of civilizations” are fundamental patterns of reciprocity and mutually benefit…even if these patterns happen along a long “arc of history” stretching over years of death and destruction and ignorance and cruelty.

If he did that, then he would have to see his Tweets and Breitbart comments as highly questionable (at best) and outright ridiculous (at worst).

What the hell the U.S. presidency’s for

I’m reading some of Robert Caro’s excellent biography of President Lyndon Johnson.

By those accounts LBJ was unscrupulously power hungry, Machiavellian, corrupt and possibly even a wicked man even by Washington standards. Yet the USA survived when it came to navigating through the volatile socio-political flux of the 1960’s. Maybe even came out a little bit on top of the game.

This makes me think of the complexity of what makes a good choice of President. Maybe we can call this “election epistemology”?

We want an election choice that will make better off the people we care about — ourselves, our kids, our compatriots, etc. We want to anchor this choice to an anchor of facts.

Problem is, we don’t have facts or what facts we do have are subjective. Stats and other measurements are subjective. Talented politicians can lie effectively to others (or “massage the truth”) because they have mastered the art of self-deception. Even language is a game (e.g. Can you say that “government builds roads” when the government hires a construction company? Can you say that a “company builds cars” when they receive government subsidies and the manual labor is done by individual persons?)

That hurts my brain and it makes me feel like I’m in a dark room where curiosity brings dim comfort: just a light I can touch but not see.

If politicians can even lie to themselves about what they believe true, then in some ways all we can know about the candidates and the choice context is what we *make* ourselves know.

What the heck does that mean? For one thing we should assume that our choice is rooted in an unconscious map of reality formed over generations of humanity and countless permutations of biological evolution. We might talk about our choice in terms of contemporary issues (Climate change, Daesh/ISIS) but our brains are making the calculation with a primordial abacus.

(For example, despite the rhetoric about wanting a leader who is “trustworthy” or “honest”, we all practice deceit at some level or another and we value a leader who can effectively mislead others — likewise with the prowess of cajoling and intimidation.

And speaking of the natural context of a U.S. Presidential election, what is the purpose of the democratically selected president and of the “nation” as a construct? As LBJ himself put it, ““Well, what the hell’s the presidency for?”

Robert Caro, “The Years of Lyndon Johnson”:

“Politicians are good liars”:

Hopped up on Someone Else’s Dreams

Whatever one thinks about the Vietnam War, this matters: “Beyond the constantly mutating argument between the Vietnamese and the French was the more bitter struggle between the Vietnamese Communists and nationalists”

To me this is one of the most important lessons from America’s war in Vietnam: that there are always those who want to rule, and who will sub/consciously assimilate any cause or tool to attain that rule (Nationality. Politics. Ethnicity. Whatever).

In Vietnam there was a fight between those who wanted to rule in the name of Communism (whether Soviet or Chinese) nationalism, the monarchy, or even democracy. The citizens in-between are the ones who got squeezed, who suffered, who died, who had to pick between two wrongs to survive.

Perhaps you can call it an “Anthropology of Conflict”, and that same lesson carries to the major conflicts and would-be totalitarians of today. Europe, Ukraine and Russia. ISIS, Al Shabab, Al Qaeda and Boko Haram. The Chinese Communist Party. North Korea’s Kim Jongs. Cuba’s Castros, Boliva’s Morales.

In the USA too we have our power elites who had no small part in how America engaged with conflicts during the Cold War and who play the game today. They use whatever symbols they can to take power — the cross, the dollar, the flag, etc.

We should keep this in mind whenever we cheer for an action in the name of a cause. Fairness. Democracy. Freedom. Justice. These are *our* terms to define. *Our* words.

If we lose sight of this, we are lost.