… and in other news, Titanic overdue in port. Yeah, I know, it’s a strictly dog-bites-man headline, but it’s still true.
I’ve mentioned before that although the Major and I genuinely love each other, we proceed from some very different assumptions about how the universe works. One of these differences is that I lean toward a tragic view of humanity and human effort. In the short term (which for me is pre-Second Coming), I tend toward the views of Samuel Johnson and Qohelet, the Spenglerian Winter and the Arrow of Time. Of course, because I know there will be that Second Coming, I maintain hope for the Very Long Term, but I have little or no faith in efforts to, as WFB said, “immamentize the eschaton.” There are some things we can’t fix, and trying to fix them typically merely tends to create more problems, problems proportionate to the entity doing the “fixing.”
And that brings us back to the WSJ, which offers still another take on David Mamet’s embrace of conservatism:
Tragedy is devastating, he says, precisely because it’s about “people trying to do the best they can and ending up destroying each other.
“So it wasn’t a great shift to adopt the tragic view, and it’s much healthier,” he says. “Rather than saying, as the liberals do, ‘Everything’s always wrong, there’s nothing that’s not wrong, there’s something bad bad bad—there’s a bad thing in the world and it’s probably called the Jews,'” he says sardonically. “And if it’s not called the Jews for the moment, it’s their fiendish slave second-hand smoke. Or transfats. Or global warming. Or the Y2K. Or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. And something must be done!'”
It’s the last part—the temptation to believe that everything can be fixed—that Mr. Mamet thinks is the fatal error. “That’s such a f— bore,” he says. “I mean, have you ever tried to get a pipe fixed in your bathroom on a Saturday? It’s not going to happen. It’s gonna happen wrong, and the guy’s gonna be late because his dog got run over, and he’s going to fix the wrong pipe, and when he takes it apart he’s gonna say, ‘Oops, the whole plumbing system’s gonna have to go and dah dah dah and etc. etc. etc. And your daughter’s Bat Mitzvah’s gonna be ruined. It’s interesting—it’s the tragic view of life.”
As Mr. Mamet quotes his son, Noah, in “The Secret Knowledge,” “it’s the difference between the Heavenly Dream and the God-Awful Reality.”
And in the God-Awful Reality, I believe it is wiser to prepare for the bad intentions of others (not all others, but enough of them) than it is to chase utopian dreams. That, in turn, brings us to another article in this weekend’s Journal, which uses SecDef Gates’s farewell tour to once again consider the guns-and-butter balance:
The American entitlement state was born with the New Deal, got fat with the Great Society of the 1960s and hit another growth spurt in the first two years of the Obama era. The big three entitlements—Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, plus other retirement and disability expenses—accounted for 4.9% of GDP by 1970, eclipsed defense spending in 1976 and stood at 9.8% as of last year. Under current projections, entitlements will eat up 10.8% of GDP by 2020, while defense spending goes down to 2.7%. On current trends, those entitlements will consume all tax revenues by 2052, estimates Mackenzie Eaglen of the Heritage Foundation.
Europe went down this yellow brick road decades ago and today spends just 1.7% of GDP on defense. The Europeans get a free security ride from America, but who will the U.S. turn to for protection—China?
I find this a fair question, and one that seems appropriate to ask. In a pre-Millennial world, if lions must occasionally lie down with lambs, it’s better to be the lion — it has more options.