SEEKING AN ANTIDOTE FOR CULTURAL DEPRESSIONBruce Kesler
, my intrepid friend at The Democracy Project
, has just recommended a writer
, Richard Louv
, in glowing terms:"Louv is one of the most thought-provoking, original, common-sense columnists among the hundreds I see regularly. Louv is a true “moderate” but that is too bland a term for someone who ranges so widely over the landscape of ideas, culture, family, politics and reaches sometimes into our souls. Louv is not a moderate by seeking the medium or avoiding controversial positions, but by eschewing ideologies and rigidities and instead seeking promise across the spectrum of portents."
Louv, a columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune
and an author
, has an intriguing essay entitled “A Treatment For Cultural Depression
”. Some key excerpts, some of which were already highlighted by Bruce:"Blaming our malaise on our malaise is an old tradition. Cultural depression, an anthropological term, is the accumulation of societal ills, such as chronic substance abuse, that typically follows a major, widespread tragedy: an epidemic, a war, a terrorist attack. But when is cultural depression a matter of choice? On every channel we hear the droning, Gothic whine. How special we are. We, the Information Overloaded and Equity Unstable. We, the people of the iPod Nation, worried about our hearing loss. If you listen too long to the bleating lawyer-commentators on the cable channels, or to the hyped-up TV shows about the perfect storm to come, or to the Rapture-ites who, as John Prine would put it, are “wishing for bad luck and knocking on wood,” then you would surely believe that the end is near. ...Well, buck up, Bucky, life isn't half bad – and it could get better, with a little faith and effort. Yup, we've got problems that may yet do us in, but despair is unlikely to increase our odds. So far, no one has suggested a practical alternative to hope. By this, I am not recommending the “What? Me worry?” brand of optimism that assumes that invaders will be welcomed or that global warming does not exist. Instead, we need an activist hope, the kind that comes by decision and without warranty – the realistic optimism that put men on the moon and fueled the civil rights movement. As has been said, Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech was not called “I Have a Nightmare.” In fact, we're well positioned to build a better civilization, to create a new peace, to make life gentler for those who really do have something to worry about, to avoid the storm of storms.
Where fear and pessimism are commonplace in our national dialogue Mr. Louv is expressing America's potential resilience
. Not only resilience but the fact that the world is decidedly not going to hell in a handbasket ( Louv echoes the arguments of national security expert H.H. Gaffney
who has pointed to the across the board improvements in the security environment since 1991). Islamism, which in my view represents a serious and real threat in the near and medium term, is not on a historical par with Communism or Fascism. Al Qaida is an enemy engaged in deadly war with the United States but it isn't the Soviet Union. Not yet at any rate.
Fear is a useful tonic for mobilizing society for action. Certainly, in the 1930's, Great Britain was dangerously complacent and the Parliament jeered at those like Winston Churchill who sought to raise the alarm. Only when disaster was upon the British in 1940 did they truly heed Churchill's advice. Likewise, when the Soviets made clear their intent to dominate Western Europe without firing a shot in the aftermath of WWII, Truman and Acheson decided to " scare the hell out of the country" rather than let America relapse into isolationism and watch Britain and France be Findlandized.
The long haul and a long war requires hope. Churchill and FDR had an Atlantic Charter and a United Nations to hold out as a vision. Truman presented the world the Marshall Plan, NATO and midwifed the seed that became the EU. Today the Bush administration champions democracy promotion which realist and partisan critics already are declaring to be dead on arrival. The critics are wrong.
Democracy however is a longitudinal game, a long-term bet and not a quick fix. Importantly, it is an option that plays on the moral level of conflict. What else is there to offer on the other side as an equivalent ? Dictatorship ? A Caliphate ? Who is going to buy that except at the point of a gun ? Our Islamist opponents are left with little more to offer their people than nihilism and martyrdom, poverty and war.
HAMAS, a terrorist organization, has been elected to govern the Palestinian territories because there was no other realistic option for Palestinian voters except Fatah corruption and thuggery. The Israelis are now sorely tempted to preemptively destroy the PA rather than let it fall under HAMAS control. This is an error. Let HAMAS first fail at governing through economic incompetence and weary the Palestinian people with religious zealotry. Liberal alternatives will emerge if the Islamists are given time to discredit themselves and if HAMAS initiates terrorism anew, then they have provided Israel with a casus belli for their own destruction.
We should look with a keen eye at our own faults without flinching but our faults and mistakes are not the whole story. We have tremendous strengths as well and we should begin to use them.