Television chooses its own audience: the witless prospers and the wise disappears, and the case of The Assets is no different. Released in 2014, the show has disappeared from the site of its producer and most movie review sites, yet remains one of the most insightful and compelling narratives unleashed onto the small screen. Portraying realistic spycraft and situations, this show focuses on CIA agent Aldrich Hazen Ames and his decision to become a double agent for the Soviet Union in 1985, passing CIA secrets to his controllers in Moscow.
Filmed in eight episodes of approximately 45 minutes each, the show efficiently tells the complex story of Ames, a CIA case agent with drinking problems and a failed first marriage. When in Mexico, he meets a Colombian woman, Rosario Casas Dupuy, and brings her back to the United States where they get married. Spurred on by the agency’s failure to recognize his self-alleged brilliance and Rosario’s compulsive spending, Ames meets with KGB agents and begins to sell them CIA secrets. When they demand higher quality information in exchange for the type of money he desires, he delivers to them the complete files on every Russian working for the CIA from within the Soviet bureaucracy. Such people were called assets, and most of them were summarily executed. As this process shocks the CIA, a case officer named Sandy Grimes assembles a team to locate the source of the leaks by determining whether it was a communications failure, sloppy tradecraft or a human intelligence failing that allowed the most massive leak in CIA history to occur. It takes her and the team another nine years, interrupted by bureaucratic bungles, to gather enough evidence to first ascertain that Ames is the leak and second to enable his prosecution.
The Assets suffers for being a brainy show with a brainy topic that will not be appreciated by most Americans who currently want to deny that the Cold War existed because we are both heading toward an ideological rigor like the Soviets, and also having the same problems that reduced that empire to rubble. In addition, people do not like television that struggles with a lack of moral ambiguity and points to life as a greater struggle than for personal achievements that glorify the individual. These officers sacrifice much of their lives in the belief that they are doing something good, including some of the assets especially Dimitri Polyakov, a highly-placed asset who loathed his government and resisted it by giving — without asking for money in return — information to the West. No car chases or glamorous overseas work intrudes on what is a basic narrative of hunter and quarry, but The Assets raises questions of allegiance and morality that resonate throughout all eight episodes. Its portrayal of tradecraft looks accurate and emphasizes the long hours and evasive tactics of spies, and it pulls no punches and refuses to re-write history when it comes to Soviet treatment of those they capture, including ad hoc executions. As a result, this is both a grimly real and highly emotional portrayal of an intricate and deadly game, balancing scenes of intense and compactly-written dialogue with atmospheric intrusions into the lives and personalities of the people involved. In the process, it tells the story of several great friendships, a clash between different empires, and the struggle of individuals to do what they see as right despite overwhelming odds.
Some may complain that this series reveals the Soviets to be brutal and calculating, but it also portrays some of their greatest moments in the strategic calculus of espionage. In addition, while individual Americans are shown as highly principled and thoughtful people, and the CIA is in general cast in the best light, the bureaucracy and complacency of the West also take center stage and show how grindingly slowly this investigation went — with several interruptions — as a result of bureaucracy and public image wrangling that ultimately served no one but the enemy. If any theme can be assigned to this series, it is the primacy of individual morally-inspired action against the brutality of dictatorships and glacial timorousness of bureaucracies alike. The cinematography takes a relatively straightforward approach, halfway between a documentary and a classic film, but the editing takes over by reducing shots to the shortest duration necessary. That technique creates a compelling energy to the process of the story by giving each moment its due without becoming overly focused on any single part of the narrative. The result is a story that draws in the viewer, conveys factual detail and procedure very well, then explodes to an emotional conclusion as all the pieces fall into place and the story arc completes itself. It is a shame this series did not get more attention as it uncovers one of the more interesting stories from a vital period in recent history.
You can already guess how this movie ends simply by reading the premise:
A young woman who works for a giant soulless corporation is tasked with infiltrating an anarchist network of ecoterrorists. The writers thus have about 120 minutes to convince us why she would want to give up a bland but reliable boyfriend and an exciting job to continue eating out of garbage cans with social pariahs until she’s thrown in prison for twenty years or more, after which she’ll spend her remaining days refusing entry into Walmart to people who forgot to put on shoes. There’s no rule that says you have to surprise your audience to be a great storyteller. The authors succeed at the only meaningful goal any artist can have, which is to leave an impact on your audience.
Despite a budget of $6.5m the movie yielded only $2.4m. Those who funded the project arguably made a miscalculation in that the American public simply isn’t ready to side with a gang of ecoterrorists. Whenever this topic is addressed, it is generally with thick layers of romanticism (Avatar) or testosterone infused nihilism (Fight Club). Honesty is this film’s greatest virtue: the authors do not hide behind irony, edgy metaphors and sleep deprivation induced mental disorders that leave them with a plausible escape route to proclaim that we have all completely misunderstood the film. The authors take their stand in act as well as deed and we’re free to take it or leave it, a kind of courage not a lot of people have when it comes to a topic like this.
The first reason you should watch this film is because it shows you what we’re missing. The main characters have lives that are filled with hard but meaningful struggle. They depend not on the outside world but on each other. Together they unlearn the values we were taught by modern civilization. This movie shows what makes religious cults, anarchist communes and other social experiments so appealing: participants become part of new tribes. Individuals in these situations meet people who are similar to them and with whom they can be honest to and share everything with. This is the exact opposite of modern Western society where we are all isolated from each other, as studies now show that a quarter of all Americans have nobody to confide in.
The second reason to watch this film is because it happens to ask the right questions. We’re horrified by violence and terrorism, but why exactly? If you happen to be poor and someone decides to dump toxic waste into your community that will eventually give some people cancer, is that violence? Why are we more horrified by deaths from terrorism than deaths from air pollution? Why are we more horrified by deaths caused by political statements and sheer hatred, than deaths caused by greed and indifference?
There exists a social class within Western society that benefits from maintaining a narrow definition of violence. These plutocrats propagate Nietzsche’s slave morality. If your child dies from leukemia because your land has been turned into a chemical waste dump, these propagators of the slave morality expect that you will write letters, to them, the local media and twitter accounts, in the hope that your outrage over your violation succeeds at stealing attention from some other outrage. If you’re really audacious, you’re even allowed to start a lawsuit against them and settle out of court, trading your dignity for thirty pieces of silver in the process.
As Nietzsche noted, the monster really doesn’t mind when you fight against it by its own rules because that helps it to assimilate you. In the process of your Pyrrhic victory you have taken on its culture and its values and became personally invested in its success because it is now what guarantees you victory. Look into the mirror, see the monster staring back at you. When you’re checking on your cell phone how much further the SP 500 has to rise before you can retire to your permaculture farm, you might just notice a tiny little smirk in the mirror.
Some of our best stories come from new takes on familiar tales. This story combines the coming-of-age story of a young woman with overlapping themes in the confrontation-with-adulthood vein from war books from the last three centuries. The result is a poignant summoning that urges the West to grow up and face reality.
The film emerges from a simple device: neurotic American teen moves to England to be with cousins, then falls in love, and then the world explodes around her as WWIII — enacted by shadowy “terrorist” forces — breaks out. By showing as little as possible of the bigger picture, How I Live Now makes it more convincing than if it tried to show us a war that is best left as mystifying to us as it is to these children on the cusp of adulthood.
Consistent themes involve confrontation with reality and a need to snap out of a neurotic, self-destructive and spoiled-brat type mentality that is seen not just in the children but in the West as a whole. People are unable to face reality and the result either destroys them or those they love. If anything, this movie campaigns for a cold bucket of water in the face for those caught in such a dream/nightmare scenario.
This plot does not require extensive acting ability but the actors portray it as realistically as possible, borrowing from horror films the tendency to push a character’s deer-in-the-headlights freeze response to the limit. Simply set without excessive background or large-scale scenes, the movie presents to us the same challenge it gives to its characters: face the danger in our world or go out in neurotic, dysfunctional misery.
Most people live in very small worlds. These worlds consist of their social group, people at their jobs, and their families. Beyond that, they know little — and they do not care.
Their goal almost universally becomes to have an identity within this small social group. Here they can be either the big cheese, or the person who is an expert in a certain area, and thus always be needed.
Entry by any new party, or arrival of a new group that makes the old group look as small as it is, will provoke energetic response. They want their identities left alone and kept in perpetuity.
In the old days, these groups could be satirized as a competition for who bakes the best crumb cake in the PTA, or which lady at church has the best finery on. In contemporary society the competition occurs over Facebook and Tinder and consists of who gets the most attention from others.
As the small world expands, the complexity of its choice decreases because the competition becomes more anonymous. Soon all that differentiates someone is novelty, promiscuity and outlandishness. The small world remains small because it chooses people based on these social criteria and the broader awareness of consequences beyond what other people think remains mysterious.
It is possible for humanity to be globalized, connected up to the second, and part of the same political movement and still to be a small world. In fact, most political movements are small world gestures: defend your social group, your status, or your pretense of who you are as a person.
Small worlds force competition between people for place. In doing so, they create an identity which replaces moral identity (“I do what is right”) and broader social identity, like national identity. Small worlds want to break people down into granular beings so that no index of selection exists except social popularity in the small world.
When people choose a small world, they create actions which have effects in the big world. All of our choices lead to action; all actions have effects; those effects are not limited to us because they reach beyond us. Small world choices tear down big worlds.
The big world has one essential component: what is called “natural law,” or the order of the cosmos as understood through science, philosophy and religion. Unlike small worlds, it is not based on emotion and social popularity (a form of transmissible emotion). It is reality as we best know it, and a record of what has worked and what has not during our 6,000 years on this planet.
People in small worlds will find big world people impossible to comprehend. Big world people look to the future, and look toward many effects at once, comparing them always to a goal for an “optimum” or “best case scenario.” Small world people look to the immediate, the emotional and the social only.
As we conduct a postmortem on the most recent civilization to collapse into third world status, namely Western liberal democracy, we might begin our inquiry with: were they thinking in terms of big worlds, or were they limited to small worlds?
Knowledge is not power, the unknown is power. The unknown does not explain itself, the unknown does not justify itself. The unknown is the primordial fact.
Man is aboard a ship surrounded by the seas of the unknown. We have steering, we have shelter, we have navigation systems, and we are thankful for this. Yet reality does not end within the boundaries of the ship. The only thing we can do is navigate.
After several voyages we might learn a thing or two, we can make repairs, and we can use our good old fashioned horse sense. We control our ship, but we do not control the sea. We encounter ice, violent weather, rogue waves, system malfunctions, sea sickness, madness.
Once upon a time, a captain looked to the sky to predict the weather. He used the sun and the stars to chart his course. Now we have satellites, computers, and communication systems to do these things more accurately. Yet we would never suppose that because of this upgrade we now control the sea itself. Knowledge is navigation and nothing more. The unknown remains.
Now, I’m just an old chunk of coal, but I ain’t never known a seaworthy ship that doesn’t have an anchor. The anchor is the most important part of the ship. We could consider it to be an aspect of navigation but paradoxically it is the only aspect that halts movement. Drop anchor and you sway with the sea.
There I was, sittin’ on the dock, swappin’ tales with ruffians. I says that ‘religion ain’t medicine,’ I says, ‘but I still reckon it has a function.’ And this ol’ sailor says to me, he says, ‘yeah, religion has a function, halting the progress of society!’ Well, I have to concede that this is true. And yet a car without brakes, or a ship without an anchor, is a disaster waiting to happen. Progress is irrelevant if you do not arrive at your destination.
Man’s anchor is religion. It is essential. It is an aspect of navigation, yet it is the only part that does not actually navigate. When we drop anchor, our ship synchs up perfectly with the movements of the sea, yet it is not swept away by the sea. Religion synchs us to the unknown.
We can either become allies with the unknown or be destroyed by it. We can never thwart the unknown. There is no ‘controlling’ it. We have a destination, navigation, and faith. Luckily, that is all we need. A destiny, a mission, and an intrepid heart.
Welcome to the vast Bering Sea. Fortunes are made, lives are lost, and underwater, the men tell no tales. This is the deadliest catch.
Conservatives in the 1980s struck me as somewhat terrifying. They answered just about any question with “just work hard and get ahead.” Three decades on, I can see that they answered this way because they saw no solutions on the political front. The general idea was that society had gone to hell, so all we could do was enrich ourselves and live moral lives on our own.
With the advantage of looking back over that gap in time, we can now say firmly that these conservatives were wrong. Working hard and getting ahead makes it easier for the left to surge in, take over all levels of politics, and run the country into the ground. Then they’ll take whatever you have and repurpose it to serve the victims-of-the-day: poor, minority, gay, foreign.
Keeping that in mind, it’s time for conservatives to re-visit the mania for “hard work.” Specifically: time. From reading the biographies of not just great authors but greats of all stripes, I ascertained a common theme along the lines that six hours of solid work a day is about what most humans can do. The rest is peripheral time, doing repetitive simple tasks, but not anything too essential.
I don’t think it makes sense to give all of those hours to a career alone. People should always have interests outside of a job. After all, a job is a means to an end. You work to keep society alive and to sustain your family. If work replaces life, people become bitter, distracted, envious, petty and mean.
People around the internet seem confused about why others in their country do not feel any unity or commitment to improving society. The answer is that it’s every man for himself out there. Any obligations you make to others are a loss for you, and take time out of your already overburdened day. The best control mechanism ever may be keeping everyone busy.
The average office worker around here has no time to think much less rest. They wake up, get ready, and get to work; this takes an hour at minimum. They work eight to ten hours, sometimes more, usually because he who sits at the desk longest gets promoted. Then they go to the gym, dinner at a restaurant, and then maybe get a drink. Then it’s to home for a couple hours of TV before bed.
Nowhere during this day did this person experience a thought of their own creation. Their brain filled itself with reactions entirely. At work, they are given work to focus on; at the gym, they are listening to headphones; at the bar, talking to others; watching TV, their brains are awash in the visions of others. Are we even individuals if we have no individual thoughts?
This is not asking people for profundity, but familiarity. People need to learn who they are and to think about what they really value. They need to contemplate their use of their own time and their role in the universe. Right now they lack even the moment for this. In addition, they need more quality time with family, hobbies, friends and community.
“Work hard” defines not a plan, but a compromise. The unstated bargain allows us to tolerate the insanity around us instead of pushing back. Even worse, it makes us into people who are too busy to think and thus are without depth or insight. We need to slow this society down, spend more time on life itself instead of means to that end, and rediscover what our real values are.
A recent trend pushes conservatives to abandon their social conservative beliefs. It comes from both inside and beyond the conservative movement and contains a hidden agenda to reduce conservatism to an economic position alone. In this vision of conservatism, the less you support taxation and public services and the more you approve of free market capitalism, the more “conservative” you are.
In this theoretical framework of conservative belief, socially conservative beliefs –- that some people don’t belong in every place, and that some behaviors are not okay regardless of economic impact -– suffer a loss of value and place. The only consideration remains whether the people in question can continue working jobs and buying products. This standard serves as a justification for acceptance of all social activity even when it outright violates conservative values:
“Sending women home would reduce our GDP by 50%. Why do you HATE AMERICA?”
“Homosexuals are 3% of the population. Do you want to LOSE those JOBS?”
“Close the border? We need those people for our INDUSTRY!”
This reduces conservatives to a caricature of the dominating parent. Don’t think about anything but money: get a good job, work all the time, have money and then do whatever you want right now. Future? History? Who cares? Why would you care if your society is an immoral wasteland, just get yourself gated house. Why would you care who breeds with whom, as long as they work in the same economy that benefits you?
Any self-professed conservative will through experience come to understand: conservative belief is about more than money and that ’s why social conservative beliefs became part of conservatism long ago for reasons we’ve obviously forgotten.
Conservatives began as those trying to “conserve” traditional societies against the onslaught of Enlightenment thought. Traditional societies arose from the folk ways, biological tendencies and accumulated culture and knowledge of groups that had remained stable and functional for thousands of years.
Conservative belief is a reaction against a dangerously proliferating desire for people to be allowed to deviate from society’s tried and true course in favor of whatever they want, no matter how impractical, selfish or openly incompatible with their society it is.
Here at Amerika.org, we describe that phenomenon as liberalism, leftism or Crowdism. We often rightly compare it to cancer.
The predictable response is to cry out, “Then what is society’s purpose and why is it so important that people must comply with it?”
The fact that so many people don’t know the purpose of society is the root of all problems we face.
It’s how I can easily diagnose that society isn’t “failing” but has ALREADY failed. The Circle of Life in a functional society is as follows:
You are born.
Poor little bugger that you are, you’re helpless and don’t know anything, and can’t even feed yourself. Luckily for you, your biological creators – mom and dad – are there to save the day. Not only do they feed you and take care of your biological needs, but they teach you everything they know about how to survive in the world and do well in society. They socialize you, introduce you to the skill set that will sustain you in life and provide you a safe haven to refine those skills.
You go out and make your contributions and learn more about how life works.
Thanks to the stability of society, you probably still have a lot of the friends you grew up with. You’ve gotten to see how different behaviors and choices play out over a period of decades, and a lot of life lessons have come to you. As an adult however, you get to go out and make some adult professional/labor contribution to society. Thanks again to that pesky stability, “society” is comprised largely of people you know and should have some relationship with – people you knew as a child growing up, people you grew up with or their relatives. Even if you don’t directly know them that way, somebody you know will. It’s one giant extended family.
Because of that, there is no real need to go find somewhere to “belong,” because you belong where you already are. If nothing else you belong with your parents, so you in your youth can afford to take some calculated risks as to how you want to contribute to the lives of others around you and secure some kind of material provisions to start a family of your own.
You find a woman who you can happily raise a family with.
Now you’ve formed a stable environment of your own. You can take for granted that your spouse will be there and support you, and because of that you can build a deeper relationship than you ever could with any six month fling of today. People who settle for a lifetime can build cathedrals, nomads only have time for tents. That’s what marriage is like; settling down to build something grand.
The fruits of the best relationship of your life will include your own biological progeny. To them you get to impart all that your parents taught you, and your wife may impart all that her parents taught her, and together you can teach them everything that you both have personally learned in life. Your kids will have a better shot at a fulfilling life and favorable interaction with society than you had.
In the twilight of your old age, you can enjoy the company of your children; people who you taught since infancy and cheered for as they vindicated your knowledge either through obedience or disobedience, or who learned things you never could’ve imagined about how life works so that they can pass it on to you and their own children.
Order and knowledge accumulate over the generations.
This is obvious in a technological sense: Grok figured out that you can just eat MOST of a plant and let it grow back instead of eating it to the ground and finding another, his descendants figured out you could plant seeds to get MORE of that plant, their descendants figured out that you could cover the soil in animal dung and food waste for a more robust harvest.
This is less obvious in a social sense. What ought we to do in a given situation? What will turn out best? How should we treat each other? What is the most sensible way to find a mate? How should we handle noncontributors and troublemakers in society? How can we build enduring friendships? What should we even eat? What are some good ways to blow off steam or celebrate something or spend our free time that don’t harm our personal integrity or the stability of this society which the generations have created by group effort?
These accumulate over the generations to create “culture,” the accumulated wisdom and style of the ages, that thing which the ‘Stuff White People Like’ brand of pasty oppressors love to embrace only at the superficial level of putting an African pot on a shelf in their bathroom. “I am a culture, not a costume?” How about “I am a culture, not a design element?”
People underestimate the importance of doing things as you like to do them. This is part of culture too: it shaped what you like, and you are now shaping it. This feedback loop incorporates both pragmatism and artistic elements into knowledge of how to perform the tasks relevant to our survival. This lives on long after running from predators and telling stories around camp fires ceased to be the default state of existence.
That’s what a culture is, the accumulated knowledge and folkways of thousands of families over very long periods. It is perhaps our most valuable tool as humans, because it can teach us how to associate with each other, how to perform the tasks relevant to our survival, and what major mistakes society should avoid.
Culture becomes a kind of social historical memory. A holiday reminds us why something was good for us, while a lingering bias against something traces back to negative feelings towards some thing, group or intra-group behavior that legitimately threatened the stability of the whole way of life. The Japanese don’t hate selfishness and waste for no reason, are you arrogant enough to try to teach them that mottainai is “just a social construct?”
We must understand that the purpose of civilization is to produce progressively better culture, and this is what social conservatives want to “conserve.”
So what of the “hot button” issues that people give social conservatism such a harsh time over?
“Homosexuals can work a career just fine, so what’s the problem? It doesn’t affect you anyways!”
…except that it does affect me. Legitimizing homosexuality sends the signal that sex is not for family, but sex is for a fetish of personal pleasure. How much would you like it if your pancreatic cells decided they wanted to abandon their duties to try to become something “new?” How much would you like it if they proliferated and encouraged other cells around your body to make the same transition? How can a person hate and fear one thought form as applied to their body but support it with money and affirmations of power as applied to the society that gives them life?
“But what about the ones who marry a woman and then have a family and only pursue homosex after the kids are raised?”
Yes, cheat on your spouse, teach your kids that the family is unstable and that they should not trust it. That will be good for the wellbeing of future generations and the social customs that sustain them.
Womens’ rights is a misleading title. Really it is “lack of accountability for women.” Thus the definition is stretched to include abortion, adoption, the right to be a single mother and still act “single” without stigma (i.e. hookups and partying like a whore), the right to try to juggle a normal career with family even when you don’t need to, and basically any other copout to get out of being a real mother that you could possibly dream up.
If you still think at this point that a 50 hour work week leaves enough time for a mother to give her kids proper attention or that paying strangers to educate your kids is equivalent to being raised by their real mother and being taught all the intricacies of generational knowledge, you are mentally defective and I hate you for it.
I grew up on the receiving end of these silly beliefs and I can say with authority of experience that growing up without real parents is tantamount to child abuse, and a lot of kids I grew up with could tell you the same. If you believe silly social science theories over our experience then you must be stopped for the good of society.
I don’t want to see women sexually harassed, I certainly don’t want to see them objectified, and if they do work I think they should get paid for their work and not their gender, but the rest of “womens’ rights” issues just demand the right to create and then immediately destroy families.
“But what about adoption?”
Break the chain of generational knowledge? I’m gonna go with “no.” If somebody’s parents die adoption is a great thing and I’d never knock anybody having that kind of generosity and compassion, but if you are in a position to be a real parent and you use adoption to opt out of it then you should pretty much die.
Much like homosexuality, abortion is an attempt to separate sex from family. This makes relationships about pleasure, not collaboration toward the end of having families. The result is sexually shellshocked zombies wandering around, zinging between sexual overdose and brutal loneliness, dysfunctional and neurotic to the end.
“I’m not ready for kids, I’m going to planned parenthood.”
Great, so you freeload off of all of the education and stability your parents provided for you and turn around to waste it on hedonism – or, as is becoming more popular, not having kids to save money. Gotta have that television, don’t you?
Inclusion for ethnic minorities and cultural outsiders
Considering that society’s purpose as we now know is to create generational knowledge to refine a certain way of living and doing things into the best version of itself possible, how does importing and legitimizing a bunch of people with conflicting beliefs and practices help that come about?
If I’m writing a song in F# minor, will it suddenly become better if just one of six instruments is now playing in a totally different key? No, it would sound like hell because that’s a stupid idea. People intuitively understand this when they look at anything but social patterns, which are highly stigmatized and route their thinking away from value judgments.
This is actually a pretty good analogy because society is architectonic; all of its pieces work together in synchronicity to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts with no part being more or less important. Even if you swap out one part for another that seems better on paper, unless it works with the remaining parts as well or better than what it replaced then the whole thing is screwed. If you buy the fanciest head gasket on earth but it doesn’t fit your engine, what good does it do you? People don’t realize that in society we’re supposed to be building something like an engine, and as a result their “plan” is to assemble the world’s best incompatible engine parts in a heap, call it the best engine in the world and then lynch anybody who points out that it doesn’t run.
Did you grow up in a small town, project, Indian reservation or trailer park where everybody was drunk and on drugs? No? Then I don’t want to hear it.
People who choose intoxication are not functional.
People who flee waking reality with chemically induced fantasy and mood manipulation are not healthy members of society, and if they can act the role it’s only because their little careers and friendships are on chemical life support. Nothing about the family system I described above is at all compatible with a behavior that transforms real humans into brain damaged, lascivious irresponsible whores.
How would you feel if you found out Mommy was a whore who took 50 dicks before your father? Even the Mens’ Rights Activist types who scream from the rooftops that “all women are whores” are always silent when you counter with “but what about your mom?” (It’s beside the point that it’s ludicrous that they should spend so much time trying to “pick up” women if they think all women are cheap, expendable and morally dubious.)
What about men? Are promiscuous men a problem? Of course. How would you feel if Dad screwed dozens of dumb sluts from bars before settling on your mother? How would you like knowing you might have random half brothers somewhere that you never knew about?
How would you feel knowing your parents’ union to create you was not even special, and that it was just the random chance outcome of a few mammals acting on instinct and sharing secretions?
Would it not be so much better to know that your parents lived pure lives, married and then had you intentionally so that they could take care of you, raise you and teach you? Would you not be so much more grateful towards them? Would such a life not be so much more beautiful than knowing your origin was just a hair’s breadth better than being crapped out into a public toilet and left for dead?
The reasons for social conservatism are integral to a definition of who we are. Do we want to be a rising society that makes great culture, learning, wisdom and art, or another one of the burnt-out husks of once-great civilizations that are known for their corruption, filth, chaotic rutting, criminality and disorder? It’s almost like a check box question:
[ ] Yes (but there will be Rules)
[ ] No (but you can do anything you want)
The choice for both individuals and society is exceedingly simple:
If you want to live in a Tolkien fantasy world or in something similar to one of those “exotic” cultures you praise for being so much more orderly, cooperative and intuitive than your own, choose complete sobriety, complete premarital chastity, complete fidelity in heterosexual marriage and complete dedication to both the family you create and the family you come from. This is culture because it’s both what has always led to the highest truth and beauty in life, and derived from a sense of transcendent joy. If life can be beautiful, and if you can feel unity with the cosmos and forces of creation that made you, it is natural to seek beauty, familiarity and constantly-rising goodness.
If you want to live in a carbon copy of the seediest parts of Tijuana, choose anything different from that. You will then have cast yourself into the darkness of third world status, not just in results, but in your soul. You will have given up on both practicality and beauty, and traded your chance for a life rising above the disorder for the relatively paltry and cheap thrills of promiscuity, intoxication, selfishness and — of course — finance.
Amy Chua, formerly of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, is probably a liberal. However, she espouses a very conservative idea: our choices of action determine the results we get.
In Tiger Mother, she outraged parents across the world by showing how if they were willing to work at it, they could make their kids quite successful.
In her newest, The Triple Package, Chua continues the theme — also made popular by Malcolm Gladwell with Outliers: The Story of Success — that how we work determines the results:
The book highlights Jews, Indians, Chinese, Iranians, Lebanese-Americans, Nigerians, Cuban exiles and Mormons as groups with three qualities that set them apart. A superiority complex, insecurity and impulse control are the “three cultural forces” driving these groups to achieve a disproportionate amount of success, the authors suggest.
“That certain groups do much better in America than others — as measured by income, occupational status, test scores, and so on — is difficult to talk about. In large part, this is because the topic feels so racially charged,” the authors write in their introduction.
Despite the nod to human biodiversity topics like IQ and race, this is like Gladwell’s book fundamentally about behavior.
While there’s a good side to that, which is emphasizing the non-utilitarian consequentialist nature that is part of conservatism, there’s also a great liberal lie: if we all just follow the procedure, we’ll all turn out successes!
In the liberal democratic mindset, this translates into the following steps:
Find out what successful groups are doing.
Make it into a standardized curriculum.
Teach it aggressively with those who put in the most hours coming out ahead.
Already American education is bigotry in favor of those who put in the most hours. We are not promoting our smartest students, only our most diligent. The result is a flood of memorizers and imitators like the fools we have in Washington and San Francisco who are highly praised but unable to come up with solutions to real-world problems.
They will try to re-style the question as creativity, entrepreneurship, “hard work” (translation: putting in more hours than anyone else), and other distractions. The question however is not hours or some quirky skill, but a fundamental skill, leadership, which enables someone to identify the necessary task and take steps to accomplish it, usually in company of others.
Chua’s book, like Gladwell’s before it, is another step toward this standardization. If they have their way, children will have no free time and the nation’s top students will work 80 hours a week from age 5 to 30 in order to “prove” they belong at the top. This will get us another layer of witless elites who appear competent but are fundamentally people of no judgment, discernment or ability for long-term thinking.
As my wife just pointed out as we sit here in bed reading, Amy Chua married Jed Rubenfeld. She’s Chinese and he’s Jewish. They’re both from the type of high-performance group she touts as ideal. However, the question here becomes: does such high performance make an ideal society? Another way to phrase that is: why are they here instead of there among the high-performers?
My theory here is that high performance itself is a trap that makes a society nearly intolerable. By rewarding hoop-jumping instead of real-world application of knowledge, we limit the field and make it a competition for hours not ability. This chases away anyone with the brains to do anything else, and so the best become childless artists and the mediocre become elites. While they may be technically intelligent, they have lost the skill of making a society worth living because they have lost the ability to have applied knowledge, and thus they make a society that is pure competition and no joy. It becomes a negative place where people slave away their whole lives to get into the elites, and when they get there, they become utterly insensate to the plight of those below them and act aggressively only for their own advancement. High performance competition creates a self-parasitic society.
As conservatives remind us, the origins of European society lay in the classical ideal: every thing in its place, for perfect balance, leading to a transcendental beauty and joy. This is the opposite of the high performance society because it does not embrace performance for its own sake, but performance in the service of an ideal, like achieving “the good, the beautiful and the true.” It made a better society, which is why they all want to come here instead of live in high performance China.
Millennials are in a bubble of their own creation. Others watch them, but don’t communicate, because we know the bubble is there and are aware we will be attacking with anger for puncturing it. We can tell that they are the products of decades of leftist indoctrination, broken homes, commercial “culture,” and the legitimization of selfishness in politics.
As if on cue, they make a movie that demonstrates the millennial mindset: a group of people who have grown up with only one mode of discourse, which is social. Millennials understand the world as a process by which they express emotions, and this convinces other people to do things for them. They have no frame of reference outside of a society based on facilitating the feelings, judgments and desires of its population.
Monsters starts with an interesting premise. In this world, NASA sends a probe to Europa to gather samples. On its return, the probe breaks up over Mexico. At this point, a wide band of northern Mexico is infected with the spores of these aliens, which grow parasitically on trees and then mature as demonic-looking, Chthulhu-inspired half-crab half-octopus creatures fifteen stories tall.
It would be hard to go wrong with such a formula. Alas, Monsters does. First, the filmmakers fundamentally misgauge the story. It involves a photographer trying to escort his boss’ daughter out of the danger zone and into safety in boring, humdrum, meaningless suburban America, where she is set to marry someone she speaks of very little. In theory, this would be a story where the characters do the following:
Evade, conquer and/or come to understand the monsters;
Discover some of themselves, grow up or become braver;
Find some meaning in the journey, or maybe change life path.
For all of this great screen-time potential, the directors and writer raise a white flag. None of those topics get touched, except in passing as a dialogue gloss. We never see any of them happen. In fact, the movie ends with the same lack of direction it began with, having taken us through an hour and a half of lack of direction. Its characters literally float in stasis, imprisoned by their lack of affect to anything meaningful in life.
Of course, like the modern society that produced them, the millennial characters are full of emotion. They spend most of the movie having emotional reactions, taking dramatic pauses, creating drama — “emotional gestures which have no resolution, because their goal is to make the individual feel important” — and acting out their own lack of ability to think on the people around them. But this is surface emotion, on the level of self-pity or self-promotion, and doesn’t reveal anything of their souls, if they have them.
As said above, millennials act through one single focus: socialization. They expect to have emotions, and to use those emotions as a justification for “need,” and to have society meet those needs because, hey, it’s the social thing to do. Naturally, it would be fascinating to see a story of someone growing out of that state because they had to get their act together to evade or defeat marauding aliens, but the directors missed that one.
Probably the best thing about this movie is its extensive use of CGI for things other than the aliens. We expect the aliens and military vehicles to be CGI; however, the directors fake wrecked vehicles, destroyed buildings, ruined landscapes and even street signs with their CGI software. This means less of a mess was made, and with luck all movies will do this in the future, because it’s “close enough” as in only 2% removed from the real thing.
This could be a movie about the cultural clash of our time and people growing to accept reality. Instead, it’s a movie about how millennials can’t do that, and how the society that created them can’t do it either. It also can’t get off its high horse and be a movie about fighting aliens. Instead, it’s a movie about self-pity, and with that the directors “snag defeat from the jaws of victory” and make a bummer of a soulless film.
In a liberal arts college, the only thing campus progressives seem certain of is nothing. They are certain of God’s absence, race’s social construction, and gender’s ambiguity. No objective truths can be found and everything, particularly culture, is relative.
Their certainty in nothing only gets stronger; if you dare challenge them, Godwin’s Law is quickly invoked, you are told to check your privilege, to stop accepting everything your parents told you, etc. This may disappoint some readers; but most people on campus who disagree with the progressives have learned to just passively ignore them; trying to start a debate is relatively futile, usually leaving you exhausted and angry. It is generally better to just take the path of least resistance and let them feel superior.
Admittedly, because of the above strategy, most progressives are fairly convinced that just about everyone they keep company with is on their side — giving them the impression that our college campus is a little bubble of enlightened youth. Although I was initially jealous of even being under the illusion that everyone on campus shared my views, upon further examination, their situation is far from pleasant.
Silencing your opponent can only get you so far, and as a general rule being the loudest opinion in a room is not the most effective strategy for getting others to side with you. On campus, progressives derive their strength from unusually strong numbers and the easily invoked claim that ideological opponents are eroding the college’s “Safe Space” policies. The situation is very different off-campus. People actually express their surprise to me that a co-worker of theirs at Super America did not think much of Critical Race Theory. Progressives are astounded that a few state-school students they ran into at a concert give them blank stares upon hearing the phrase, “false gender-binary.” Since progressives run the show to such an extent on campus that some colleges even have a, “Conservative Support Group,” no debate skills are ever honed. Once outside of their element, they are shocked at how little interest their beloved working masses have in Radical Feminism.
As the year goes on, I have noticed how much this gets to them. They have no idea what they are doing wrong – everyone in their Social Science class agrees with them, so how is it that the whole world is against them? Two minorities that fall into the “progressive” grouping have found answers: the Liberation Theology clique takes comfort in God, and the strict Marxists remember their belief in Hegelian inevitability.
However, the far majority of these progressives find both God and strict Marxism horribly trite and outdated — thus are left adrift — and what happens next is almost identical every time. The first reaction is righteous indignation, and their demeanor becomes more aggressive than usual. Then the anger becomes somewhat more contemplative and less in-your-face. Next comes a kind of sadness, a sense of futility. Finally, the real trouble starts, and a spiral of deep depression sets-in. Many terms come close to describing their predicament: postmodern vertigo, existential crisis, depression, or melancholia – but none quite get it right. They realize their deficit of fundamental axioms, a basic moral compass to guide them is lacking, and a series of contradictions hit them all at once. They do not doubt their moral high ground on the topic of gender-neutral pronouns – but they reject any notion of objective truth. Life has no meaning – so they must make it for themselves – except the battle they have chose suddenly seems utterly unwinnable. Any notion of God is for the birds – but they yearn for something bigger than themselves. They have everything figured out – but are still unsatisfied. So what are they to do? What happens next?
Suddenly Albert Camus’ bibliography is rapidly ingested; there are suicide scares, drugs and alcohol are consumed en masse. The whole scene is quite sad, but strangely, few come out of this experience changed. The prolific drug use continues, but God is not found, and bombastic debates are had again.
Academia’s Cultural Marxist legacy has put young progressives once filled with hope in an odd position. Every adage of Western Civilization has been abolished, but a new axiomatic system to replace traditionalism has not been set up. Derrida will teach you how to debase every culture or truism, but no conversion of beliefs takes place, only an iconoclastic and vaguely progressive opposition to the world is left. However, outside of the Academy most people still cling to their Gods and guns and do not bother reading Judith Butler, and these people are comfortable doing so – they are not looking for something more fulfilling. Campuses turn into negative-feed-back loops – dormitories house lively debates on whether or not a John Maynard Keynes was a classist – but no one in the real world cares. Although this phenomenon is rarely vocalized, people slowly become aware of it – cue the cocaine and Camus.
The best off-campus example of what this mentality looks like was the “Occupy Movement” – groups of over-educated people coming together and saying “no” to everything. With only one in five protesters over the age of forty-five, and almost a third having gone to grad school, it seems safe to call Occupy very influenced by higher education – and everyone talked about their complete lack of focus. Why a coherent message was lacking lies in what has been described above. Occupy as a whole was operating on a different set of postulates than most everyone outside of it. A 20 year old genderqueer vegetarian who has rejected materialism ever since developing an interest in Eastern Spirituality is going to have a hard time coming up with a list of simple reforms to improve government – something completely different is desired. The way in which Edmund Burke described the French revolutionaries of his times can be applied easily to many squatters of Zuccotti Park:
Confounded by the complication of distempered passions, their reason is disturbed; their views become vast and perplexed; to others inexplicable, to themselves uncertain. They find, on all sides, bounds to their unprincipled ambition in any fixed order of things. Both in the fog and haze of confusion all is enlarged and appears without limit.
With such an unsteady foundation, Occupy died more-or-less stillborn, but the mentality that both spawned and killed it is alive and well on liberal arts college campuses across the country. The children of yuppies and bobos have fallen into a strange postmodern abyss – passionately decoding the Nazi buzzwords of Libertarianism in the day, and popping thizzles while contemplating Sartre at night. Convinced they are right but incapable of communicating themselves to the outside world, a self-pitying hedonism has enveloped their lives.
Most of these people drive me nuts, and often disgust me. I do not doubt that half of them would try and get me expelled if they knew I read VDARE from time to time – but despite this, I genuinely feel sorry for them. Some are certainly malicious idiots, but plenty are smart (understanding Gramsci is not easy) and just looking for answers.
The world is in a volatile state, and my generation is wrapped up in its own cynicism quietly looking for something higher than itself; but it is hard to envision people with tear and wine stained copies of Waiting for Godot pulling themselves together enough to advance an eco-queer movement. Any Marxist will tell you that if a situation is ripe for revolution it is equally ripe for a dangerous counter-revolution — and if that is so, the Dissident Right may have an opening right under its nose.