“Some men aren’t looking for anything logical. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.”
~ Alfred J. Pennyworth describing the Joker to Bruce Wayne
I have been giving a lot of thought lately to the cyclical nature of human history. History doesn’t repeat in the sense we see exact carbon copies of events occur in every cycle, but it is a lot like the old 8-track tapes some of us grew up with where there are several different tracks on the same endless reel. Sometimes we are on track one, sometimes on track three – but the loop always brings us back to where we started.
Today, I have been thinking about Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and the people we came to know as the saviors of the world and the Greatest Generation. I was wondering what it was that made some many, so valiant and so clearly focused on duty in such a short time frame.
I do believe that the situations we mature in make a difference and when you consider that the 18 to 21-year-olds who went to war after Pearl was attacked were born in 1920 through 1923, there are a few facts that become clear. These were kids who were the product of the excesses of the Roaring 20’s and then suffered through the Great Depression which began in 1929 and the agricultural disaster of the drought and the Dust Bowl years of 1934-1937.
The children of this age were the men and women who were called to serve in WWII. They were hardened by deprivation but in that deprivation, they found strength in God, their family, and their country. They learned to make the most of what little they had and to be frugal with what minuscule money they could make. Rather than families breaking apart, they pulled together out of necessity and love – it was not unusual to have multi-generational families living in the same home on the old farm place. Every family member had a role to play and that role was executed, not because of an expectation of reward, but out of a sense of duty that things that needed to be done just needed to get done.
A couple of centuries ago, Thomas Robert Malthus proposed that catastrophes such as famine, disease and war are the manners in which Nature culls population. Western Civilization has largely found ways to avoid such catastrophes – or at least to blunt them. That is a wonderful accomplishment – and if one is truly honest about it, the reason for this is that the ideas of individual social and economic freedom are what unleashed the power of the human mind in a scale never seen in world history.
We are undeniably the healthiest, most prosperous, most free and most mobile world that has ever existed (and those things are distributed more widely than ever before) but I have to wonder if our very prosperity is our greatest enemy. I also must wonder if there is a valid Malthusian perspective where truth and reason are concerned. It seems that while painful catastrophes like the Great Depression and WWII do cull the population, they also serve to cull from society the irrationality, unseriousness and triviality that are so celebrated in our intellectually lazy society today.
I guess I’m just a troglodyte. I’m sure no survivalist, but I do tend to evaluate the worth of things in terms of what would aid me in surviving a collapse of society. For example, if we awoke tomorrow to a total collapse of everything, I know that not only the skills that I have actively accumulated over the years but my leadership ability would allow me to provide food, clothing, shelter, and security for my family far better than say, the skills of a community organizer who has a specialized degree from Harvard Law School and little practical work experience.
I have always proposed that post-modern thought, collectivism, and the idea of “social justice” are symptoms of the disease of progressivism and progressivism is the disease of prosperity, of generations never having to face the fires of Hades in a fight for survival. Like the foppish and frivolous people of the Roaring Twenties, the current blizzard of our precious, special snowflakes was created by such a historical period where hardship is defined as not having the latest iPhone or slow Internet. That we would be here today was a historical inevitability.
But rather than avoiding conflict, the blizzard invites it. Whistling past the graveyard does not eliminate a threat, it merely hides it. There are so many tinderboxes around the world just waiting for a spark and like the White Walkers of Game of Thrones fame, the forces wanting to burn it all down are always on the march. They hide in the blizzard – it is their natural element. Winter is always coming.
Steel cannot be forged without fire. Forests are not renewed without being razed by a similar conflagration. Unity cannot exist without common cause. The Greatest Generation would not exist without the Great Depression and WWII would not have been won without their qualities.
Malthus is making way too much sense to me today.