New Year, Old Right

The latest issues of my two standard “paleocon” reads, The American Conservative and Chronicles, include fewer really noteworthy articles than average.  The election of Mr O as president and a solidly Democratic Congress freed them to turn from the constant struggle to show how they differ from the Bush/ Cheney Right and toward standard-issue conservative territory, denouncing government spending, unconventional family structures, etc. 

The contest, 1972

The contest, 1972

In The American Conservative, Daniel McCarthy argues that George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign triggered a transformation of the Republican Party by driving Cold War liberals into its ranks.  Mary Wakefield reviews Richard Dowden’s Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles, Wakefield reports that Dowden, the current director of the Royal African Society, is deeply pessimistic about western programs to aid Africa, but deeply optimistic about Africans’ ability to build a future for themselves if left alone. 

Sheldon Richman offers a succinct explanation of the Austrian school of economics’ theory of malinvestment and uses this theory to explain the current financial crisis.  David Gordon reviews a book by the most celebrated living opponent of the theory of malinvestment, Paul Krugman. 

Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi

Jim Pittaway,  licensed psychotherapist and friend of the late Michael Aris, applies his professional expertise and his personal animosity to Aris’ widow, Aung San Suu Kyi, to an analysis of western policy towards Burma.  The professional expertise part is quite illuminating.  Suggesting that we should view the Burmese regime’s relationship to its people as one of captor to hostage, he asks us to apply “the biggest rule of hostage crises: unless you can take him out right now, don’t threaten the perp.”  Since the 1990 election, the West’s dealings with Burma have consisted primarily of a series of idle threats, and the hostages have paid the price. 


The American Conservative, 20 October 2008

Psychotherapist Jim Pittaway looks at John McCain and sees a man badly in need of psychiatric evaluation.  Pittaway stresses that he would never diagnose a patient whom he has not met, but published accounts of McCain’s experiences and behavior suggest that he may suffer from moderate Traumatic Brain Injury.  Pittaway writes:

There are three signal characteristics of moderate TBI: emotional disregulation (volatility), perseveration (inability to let go of thoughts or feelings or to see them in broader perspective), and concrete thinking (abstractions and nuance are compressed into right or wrong, good or evil, people are either “for me or against me.”) 

McCain’s notoriously bad temper (for example, hitting a 93 year old colleague on the Senate floor), his insistent repetition of ideas that have been proven false (for example, claiming that Iran was arming the anti-Iranian group “al Qaeda in Iraq,” a claim that earlier this year humiliated him when he had to be publicly corrected by a friend- and which he then continued to repeat at subsequent appearances), and his habit of describing every conflict as a moral struggle (for example, briefed on some structural difficulties in international finance his response was to ask the briefer “So, who’s the villain?”) suggest the behavior patterns associated with moderate TBI.  Torture and beatings McCain has described receiving from his North Vietnamese captors could hardly have failed to inflict substantial injury on his brain.  Psychiatric tests and neurological scans can rule TBI in or out rather easily, but McCain has made it clear he will never submit to such examination.  McCain’s stated belief that he avoided any psychological damage by sheer willpower is what psychologists call “magical thinking,” and suggests that his psychological wounds are surrounded with a formidable structure of denial. 

Pittaway himself has treated many TBI patients, and his description of their lives is terrifying if it applies to a man who may find his finger on the nuclear trigger.  “Difficulties with abstract thinking breed obsessive behaviors and tendencies to personalize issues in very concrete terms in lieu of dealing with nuance and complexity.”  Moreover:

In my work with TBI patients with moderate symptoms, I am invariably struck by the level of frustration they encounter on a daily basis.  Unless it is severe, brain injury is a closed wound.  Since victims appear undamaged, everyone around them expects- and they themselves often expect- normal skill sets, behaviors, and emotional ranges.  The energy it takes to compensate for functional deficits is extraordinary, and the absence of affirming feedback breeds a senseof isolation that morphs over time into deep-seated resentment.  It ismuch, much easier to stay focused on one thing, which accounts for the characteristic obsessiveness.  Execution is driven by resentment and anger rather than objective circumstances.  Thisbreeds a toughness that can endure enormous amounts of stress before decompensation- which is almost always of an extremely violent nature- occurs.

Elsewhere in the same issue, David Gordon looks at Public Choice Economics.  Public Choice economists argue that indifference to politics is rational among voters, inasmuch as no one vote is likely to decide an election.  Gordon points out that there are other motives for voting than the hope that one will decide the election.  For example, even votes for a losing candidate may send a message that the eventual winners will notice, and being among the winners of a high-profile contest brings a satisfaction that many people desire. 

John Derbyshire reviews the “Stuff White People Like” book.  Unlike The Atlantic‘s reviewer, Derbyshire doesn’t get the significance of the phrase “White People”-the targets of Lander’s mockery are trendy progressives who would hate to be labeled as typically white.  He does mention Lander’s personal favorite among sites that have imitated his, “White Stuff People Like” (plaster, cream cheese, plastic bags, swans, mayonnaise, cocaine, and snow are the list so far.)

The American Conservative, 22 October 2007

The highlight of the issue is a piece by psychotherapist Jim Pittaway analyzing American nationalism in terms of the therapeutic model of “Criminal Thinking.”  Pittaway explains that “the unholy triad at the core of antisocial thinking is narcissism, impatience, and need for control.”  “The narcissistic predator carries senses of special entitlement and deep grievance.”  Because his view of himself is so exalted, he cannot recognize that his behavior has brought unjust suffering upon anyone else.  As an example of this kind of pathology, Pittaway quotes United States Senator Jon Tester.  “Refereeing a civil war in Iraq has distracted us from fighting a war in Afghanistan.”  As if our troops were just minding their own business, quietly making their way to the home of Taliban/ al Qaeda, when they took a wrong turn and wound up in the middle of this mysterious conflict in Iraq. 

In the context of a disordered nationalism, impatience and the need to control others combine to create a sense that one’s leaders are in fact omnipotent, and that if there is evil in the world it can only be because those leaders have defaulted in their duties.  “In this construct, any failure to control must necessarily be failure on the part of whoever was supposed to do the controlling; the core idea of America’s potential to control everything can never be questioned.  This logically absurd notion is an irreducible component of both the criminal personality and our New Nationalism.  So, like the habituated criminal, nationalist America does not have to accomodate society around us and instead must pursue ever more desperate measures to control things that cannot, and ought not, be controlled.”  These “ever more desperate measures” form a “kind of progression of increasingly less desirable outcomes experienced by the Criminal-Thinking offender when he tries to take control of the situation, loses it, escalates, and winds up dead or in prison for crimes he never intended to commit when he started out.  As long as he cannot self-regulate, and the criminal thinker cannot, he is doomed to play out to the end.” 

Pittaway gives two ways out of nationalistic Criminal Thinking.  As you would expect in a magazine called The American Conservative, one way out is an appeal to such American exemplars of the republican tradition as Lincoln and Jefferson, claiming that they both preached and exhibited self-restraint.  “Self-control — not controlling others — is at the heart of American patriotic tradition.”  The grimmer way out is the path Germany traveled after the Third Reich.  “When you’re living in the rubble you’ve created, narcissism is difficult to sustain.  When you have to engage in a daily struggle to survive, impatience is useless if not deadly.  When you have been defeated so thoroughly that you lack both capability and will to resist those who beat you, you don’t control anything.  By 1950, those same German people and their leadership reverted to pro-social thinking in government.”

In the same issue Dave Lindorff reports on a bizarre incident that occurred this August 29, when without authorization a crew loaded a B-52 with six cruise missiles armed with live nuclear warheads and flew across the country.  Even more bizarre, six airmen connected with the incident have died in the weeks since.  Most bizarre of all, the story has barely received notice in the mainstream press. 

The cover story argues that conservatives will need to share more than hatred of Hillary Clinton if they are to win the 2008 elections.  An article about Graham Greene expresses amazement that G. W. Bush recently mentioned The Quiet American when he himself so obviously embodies the worst traits of that novel’s two protagonists.  Uri Avnery reviews Mearsheimer and Walt’s The Lobby,  Neil Clark decries the British Conservative Party’s leftward drift, and Pat Buchanan expresses nostalgia for Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy.