John Derbyshire, National Review Online, August 2, 2002
One of the disorienting things for an Old World conservative settling in America is that over here, even conservatives are optimistic. This really won’t do. A conservative ought to be a pessimist, at least about human nature, human society, and the prospects for improving them. The facile cheeriness of the lefty world-perfecters are not for us, with their New Soviet Man, their Socialist Spiritual Civilization, their City of the Sun, their coming reign of peace, justice, and absolute equality. We are more of the temper of H. P. Lovecraft, who began one of his short stories with the arresting observation that: “Life is a hideous thing.”
In an attempt to redress the balance, to tug my conservative American friends back towards a properly gloomy outlook on events, I have given over today’s column to a list of unpleasant truths. This is stuff you don’t want to hear, but that, if you are a true conservative, you cannot dispute. Remember the slogan of the 1964 Goldwater campaign**: “In your heart you know he’s right.”
Most of us will die in poverty. There is no way that systems devised to provide for mid-20th-century retirees will be able to cope in the mid-21st, with imploding demographics and a centenarian on every block. “Defined-contribution” pension plans will have to be baled out by the federal government, if private enterprise is to survive. The dollars we get from them will therefore be massively devalued. Since there is no one to bale out Social Security, benefits will soon be restricted to citizens more than 80 years old. Similarly for Medicare. In fact . . .
Quality health care for all is not possible. Quality health care is what rich people get. (Actually, according to one of the depressingly tiny number of rich people I know, even they have trouble getting it.) The rest of us must wait on line to be misdiagnosed by ill-trained, paperwork-swamped, litigation-shy doctors, assisted by nurses imported from the less hygienic parts of the Third World, and unionized hospital staff with no-way-you-can-get-me-fired attitudes. This could only change if the U.S.A. devoted her entire Gross National Product to health care; and even then, it probably wouldn’t stay changed for long.
Pop culture is filth. It is now completely degenerate. Why do you never hear anyone humming a current pop song any more? Because none of them is hummable, or even worth bothering to remember. What is the main topic on TV sitcoms and “dramedies”? You know what. Why do you stand in the aisle in Blockbuster muttering to yourself: “There isn’t a single damn movie in here I want to watch”? Because Hollywood produces nothing but crap, crap, crap.
Si jeunesse savait, si vieillesse pouvait. The saddest true thing ever said (by Henri Estienne, 1531-98). Translation: “If youth only knew, if age only could.”
The environment is collapsing. The U.S. will get the blame for it, of course, but the main culprit is the Third World. Take a trip to China: The air is a soupy smog, even in quite remote places. Vast dust storms sweep periodically across the north of the country, sometimes continuing right on across the Pacific. (And in one case last year, the Atlantic, too!) The rivers run purple, orange, and turquoise. People tell me India is worse. The inhabitants of Africa are busily stripping their continent of all vegetation, having already pretty much exterminated the fauna, except in a few tourist reservations. The oceans are being fished out, and near-earth orbit is filling up with lethal junk.
Science has stopped. None of the really major scientific advances that you have been reading about since 1970 as “just over the horizon” is ever going to happen. Cheap fusion power; the colonization of Mars; artificial intelligence; supersonic air travel you can afford; contact with extraterrestrial civilizations; the conquest of cancer, tooth decay, or the common cold; fuhgeddaboutit.
Not all groups are equally good at all things. East Asians will continue to win Olympic diving events, and runners of West African ancestry will continue to win the 100-meter dash. Similarly, nobody will ever be able to devise a test of knowledge or understanding on which groups with different population-genetic histories all record identical statistical profiles. You can have meritocracy, or you can have equality of outcomes by ancestry-group, but you can’t have both. Which one do you want? It seems we have already made up our minds. Corollary . . ..
Affirmative action is absolutely essential to social order. Think about it.
Socialism is popular. Practically all of the Socialist Party platform on which Norman Thomas ran in 1928 has been implemented. Thomas himself noticed this as far back as 1962, exulting that: “The difference between Democrats and Republicans is: Democrats have accepted some ideas of Socialism cheerfully, while Republicans have accepted them reluctantly.” Yet the main negative factors in the national life today, according to spokespersons for this country’s largest political party, are corporate greed, tax cuts for the rich, and poverty-stricken old folk crying out for life-saving medications. Plainly we need still more socialism. Don’t worry, we’ll get it. Conversely . . .
Conservatism is dead. No genuinely conservative policy will ever be enacted, ever again, by any U.S. government or the government of any important state. Great masses of ordinary Americans believe that “conservative” means “repressed fundamentalist freak.” Why would they not believe this? Every medium of mass entertainment and mass information has been preaching it to them, over and over and over, for twenty years. The Ronald Reagan of 1980, if he were to stride onto the national stage today, would be unelectable. Calvin Coolidge would be laughed out of public life, if by some bizarre accident he were permitted to wander into it. Even when large majorities of Americans favor a conservative policy, nothing will be done to implement it. For example . . .
Nothing will be done about immigration. Business leaders and economic decision-makers all believe (perhaps correctly) that mass immigration is the main reason for this country’s continuing economic vitality. The Left sees poor immigrants as clients. Huge numbers of Americans are now “Hispanic,” and believe that anti-immigration activists hate them. The Joint Chiefs have no intention of letting their commands be used to police the southern border, understanding perfectly well that they would never be allowed to open fire on anyone — which is the main thing that trained soldiers are trained to do, and the inability to do which leads to collapsing morale and cratering recruitment. (It is also, of course, the only thing that would have any actual effect.)
Only Anglo-Saxon countries can do democracy. The natural state of human society is despotism. If you tally up all the human lives that have ever been lived on this planet under organized systems of government, no more than five per cent were lived under consensual systems. Even to get up to five per cent, you have to include places like ancient Athens and Tudor England, which wouldn’t pass muster as “democratic” by modern standards. In the last couple of centuries, practically all consensual systems have been Anglo-Saxon. Other cultures can fake it for a few decades, as France, Germany, and Japan are currently doing, but their hearts aren’t really in it and they will swoon gratefully into the arms of a fascist dictator when one comes along. As a corollary of this . . .
China will get stronger and richer, without moving one inch closer to constitutional government. The Chinese Communist Party has got “over the hump” into a plateau of stability that, barring severe environmental catastrophe (see above), will last for decades. Rich and confident, unrestrained by electoral considerations or Judeo-Christian ethics, or any other kind of ethics, they will do all the things we dare not do: human genetic experimentation, culling of “useless mouths,” militarization of space, minor wars of aggression, etc. In particular . . .
Taiwan will be re-united with the Motherland . . .by some combination of economic carrot and military stick. The U.S. will grumble ineffectually, up to the point where the Chinese ambassador loses his patience and asks the U.S. Secretary of State point-blank: “How many cities are you willing to lose over this? We ourselves are willing to lose three or four.” Then we will stop grumbling.
Something inconceivably horrible will happen in the Middle East. Probably the following: The Arabs will commit some huge, gross atrocity against Israel. Surviving Israelis will respond by massacring the Palestinian Arabs, and perhaps erasing a couple of Arab capitals. 100 years of peace in the Middle East will follow.
The four horsemen of the Apocalypse are saddled up and ready to ride. Just to remind you, their names are: War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death. No. 4 will presumably always be with us, but at least we have got Nos. 1, 2, and 3 pretty much fenced off in sub-Saharan Africa, right? The chance that you or me, or your kids or mine, will die in a genuine mass-mobilization-type, carriers-going-down-with-all-hands-type, flattened-cities-type war, or from starvation, or in some horrid medieval-type, communal-grave-type, 1918-flu-type plague, is actuarially insignificant, right? Well, believe it if you like, but your belief has no foundation more substantial than wishful thinking. History suggests that it is most likely false.
The next version of MicroSoft Windows will be even buggier and more counterintuitive than the last. That one you know perfectly well, of course — I don’t know why I bothered to include it. Further bad news on this front: e-mail will be rendered completely useless by spam, all that wonderful free information on the web will gradually be shut off into fee-paying sites, and NRO will start posting my photograph again.
Poverty and hardship build character; prosperity and security destroy it. Look around you.
The U.S. constitution is incompatible with a war on terrorism. It is absurdly easy to commit a terrorist act in the U.S.A. This state of affairs could be changed only by abandoning key constitutional protections. We shall be very reluctant to do this; but if deaths from terrorism reach a certain number, we shall do it anyway. That number has either seven or eight digits.
Justice is dead. As the last of the generation of judges who actually believe in the law heads into retirement, the administration of justice will be divvied up between avaricious trial lawyers and ideology-addled graduates of lefty law schools. Their morale destroyed by “brutality” and “profiling” hysteria, police forces will sink into corruption and paper-pushing. Ambitious public prosecutors will concentrate on framing up law-abiding citizens with “hate crime,” “corporate corruption,” “dangerous product” (guns, fast food) or “child abuse” charges. Actual crime — murder, rape, robbery, burglary, and assault — will skyrocket, but it will be illegal to talk about it.
We are living in a golden age. The past was pretty awful; the future will be far worse. Enjoy!
* * While trying not to remember the counter-slogan put out by the LBJ campaign: “In your guts you know he’s nuts.”
— Mr. Derbyshire is also an NR contributing editor.