by Victor Davis Hanson
One of the sad characteristics of contemporary Western society is the tendency to embrace noble lies. These are assertions and acts that don’t square with reality, with what we see and hear — and are voiced for apparently noble social purposes. Here are a few politically-incorrect examples.
1) Debt and Deficits. At our current rate we will very soon pile up between $18 and $20 trillion in accumulated national debt. We use the euphemism “stimulus,” talk of massive borrowing in terms of percentages of GDP, and casually pontificate about “inflating” our way out of the debt. The fact is that the borrowing is now so massive that there is no way to pay back what we owe without massive cutbacks in accustomed services, and a probable decline in the apparent standard of living. I say “apparent” since many of the essentials that we are accustomed to — everything from sophisticated psychiatric counseling for long-term inmates, frivolous law suits, duplicate and needless medical procedures, to government employee expense accounts, farm subsidies, or grants to the arts and media — are not that essential and will gradually begin to disappear. Raising taxes will be in the short-term offered as a solution, but it won’t for long increase net aggregate revenue since it will eventually discourage economic activity.
And we lack both the patience and guts to cut taxes, and then use the long-term larger revenue stream, coupled with massive spending cuts, to balance the budget. In short, we will invent euphemisms like “stimulus” and “furlough” as the money runs out, and Americans adjust to a lower standard of living. One can already drive in rural central California and see roads that are cracked and full of potholes, random dogs that are not licensed, and thousands of trailer-rentals on blocks and garages-turned-into-rentals, as the government has given up on its old regulation and let large swaths revert to the 1940s and 1950s. I fear that any sixth grader from my 1965 primary school down the road could have read far better than an average contemporary high school graduate of my local community.
This decline is not inevitable, given an expanding population, the prior investments of noble generations, continually evolving technology, and spreading globalization, but it is inevitable given the therapeutic culture, and present high-tax, high-spend, redistributive gospel of the present government. No one on either side of the political divide simply says the present borrowing is staggering, unsustainable, and must be paid back by real sacrifice. So we lie on, as if Greece should be our model.
2) Israel. We are inundated with constant talk of the “Middle East crisis” and “the need to restart the peace process.”
Why? Is there a new Goldstone report on Tibet? Are the American people sleepless over the divided city of Nicosia? The brutal Turkish occupation of Greek Cyprus? The rough Russian annexation of Ossetia? The callous treatment of Muslims by the Chinese?
Of course not. A noble lie is that there is a “Mideast crisis” at all. “Occupied land” is not unusual. Palestinians are no more refugees than Cypriots or Tibetans. The IDF is far more moral a military force than the Russian or Chinese or Turkish army.
The reality? Hating Israel as a unique aggressor is simply predicated on five unspoken truths: 1) rampant anti-Semitism (one can hate Jews by the loftier notion of being “anti-Zionist”; 2) fear of radical Islamic terrorists; there are apparently no radical Tibetans hijacking planes or blowing up Madrid train stations due to Spanish ties with communist China; 3) oil, oil, oil. The Cypriots cannot enlist the Greeks to withhold 500 billion barrels of oil in the Aegean from world markets. If such a fantasy were true, Nicosia would be on the front pages; 4) Israel is Western, like the U.S., and in a most un-Western neighborhood, so hating Israel is a mechanism of hating the U.S. on the cheap; 5) demography. If there were a billion-person Orthodox community energized by a half-billion Greek-speakers, we most certainly would wish to solve the “Cyprus crisis.”
The truth? Money, fear, and age-old hatreds all are masked by “principles” and “morality.”
3) Illegal immigration. Do the math on remittances — $50 billion a year sent back to Latin America; perhaps $20-25 billion sent from California alone, mostly from illegal aliens.
The following thought will get one censored as cruel and inhuman: millions of California residents, here illegally, without English or high-school diplomas, somehow manage to rely in part on state subsidies for food, housing, education, legal help, and transportation to free up cash in the billions to be sent southward to Mexico.
In addition, much higher per capita rates of illegality, from gang activity to DUI arrests, characterize far too many of the illegal alien community, requiring state investments that outweigh the often argued advantages of increased sales taxes, Social Security deductions supposedly not drawn upon, cheap wages for unskilled labor, etc.
In other words, to suggest that a very sophisticated society is spending billions to educate, incarcerate, and treat millions from the former Third World is forbidden. And the corollary is even more bizarre still: millions risk their lives to flock northward to the United States, even as the premise of multiculturalism in the schools, affirmative action in the workplace, and the chauvinism manifested in popular culture is somehow that an oppressive Eurocentric America “owes” penance. Historians two centuries hence will remark on the anomaly of the notion that millions of Mexican nationals both wish to emigrate to the United States, but simultaneously once here to voice grievances against the culture they so wish to join — sort of like the old demonstrations against Prop. 13 when protestors used to wave the flag of the country they did not wish to return to and trample the flag of the country they so eagerly wished to remain in. A modest proposal: to send money to Latin America, one here without legal documentation would either pay a 10% surcharge on the transaction or show proof of catastrophic healthcare insurance.
4) The image of the United States. Here we really enter into the world of the surreal. Privately the world’s poor connive to enter and stay in the U.S. Publicly as they do so, their leaders fault America to no end. The Middle East is especially culpable — as millions of residents use every angle imaginable to enter America, even as the popular culture of the Middle East is decidedly anti-American. What is the logic of such anti-Westernism? That one can enter Europe or America, enjoy its benefits, and then help turn it into the homeland — as if by doing so it would still be attractive to the immigrant in the first place? If Denmark is Islamicized, would Muslims flee to Copenhagen to escape the oppression and poverty of Egypt or Syria? I fear that the ideology of a Major Hasan or a Westernized Mutallab or an Alabaman such as Hammami is not that unusual. It was no accident that an Atta or KSM spent quite a lot of time in either America or Europe.
5) The Left. What is going on with the rise of a leftist aristocracy? Al Gore becomes a multimillionaire railing about reducing our lifestyle in accord with the pseudoscience of his climate-change gurus? John Edwards built a mansion to better voice his sermons on “two nations”? From his estates, John Kerry limoed and jetted in Kennedy-fashion to warn us about a cruel jobless vision of George Bush’s America?
A zillionaire Gates family, that has ensured there will be no federal inheritance taxes on their $50 billion, lectures on the benefits of higher inheritance taxes; a speculating Soros expounds on capitalism’s sins; a billionaire, tax-savvy Buffet laments the too-low federal income tax; a multimillionaire, low-ratings Katie Courac bristles at Palinism as her network lays off hoi polloi. And on and on.
Yet rarely is voiced the common denominator. High Liberalism is now a psychological manifestation, by which the very rich, immune to both the realities of tough living and the hurt of high taxes, finds solace, self-worth, penance even, by sympathy for big government entitlement for the less fortunate whom they connive hourly to avoid. Prep schools are jammed with the children of those who damn charter schools and vouchers; environmentalism’s most articulate advocates of small is better live in ways undreamed by the masses they wish to rein in. The greatest advocates of public expenditure, whether a Rangel, Geithner, or Daschle, are quite busy ensuring that they themselves will not have to pay for it all.
Yes, it’s a mad, mad world, after all — proof positive that the enormous engine of capitalism, when married to the absolute freedom of Western democracy, results in some very funny things indeed. To make sense of it all the contradictions, we lie — increasingly about almost everything.
©2010 Victor Davis Hanson