Skip to comments.The 'cold civil war' in the U.S.: The common space required for civil debate...(MARK STEYN)
Posted on 10/22/2007 6:40:16 PM PDT by dufekin
William Gibson, South Carolinian by birth, British Columbian by choice, is famous for inventing the word "cyberspace," way back in 1982. His latest novel, Spook Country, offers another interesting coinage:
Alejandro looked over his knees. "Carlito said there is a war in America."
"A civil war."
"There is no war, Alejandro, in America."
"When grandfather helped found the DGI, in Havana, were the Americans at war with the Russians?"
"That was the 'cold war.' "
Alejandro nodded, his hands coming up to grip his knees. "A cold civil war."
Tito heard a sharp click from the direction of Ochun's vase, but thought instead of Eleggua, He Who Opens And Closes The Roads. He looked back at Alejandro.
"You don't follow politics, Tito."
That's quite a concept: "A cold civil war." Since 9/11, Mr. Gibson has abandoned futuristic sci-fi dystopias to frolic in the dystopia of the present. Spook Country boils down to a caper plot about a mysterious North America-bound container, and it's tricked out very inventively. Yet, notwithstanding the author's formidable powers of imagination, its politics are more or less conventional for a novelist in the twilight of the Bush era: someone says, "Are you really so scared of terrorists that you'd dismantle the structures that made America what it is?" Someone else says, "America has developed Stockholm Syndrome towards its own government." Etc. But it's that one phrase that makes you pause: "A cold civil war."
Or so you'd think. In fact, it seems to have passed entirely without notice. Unlike "cyberspace" a quarter-century ago, the "cold civil war" is not some groovy paradigm for the day after tomorrow but a cheerless assessment of the here and now, too bleak for buzz. As far as I can tell, April Gavaza, at the Hyacinth Girl website, is pretty much the first American to ponder whether a "cold civil war" has any significance beyond the novel:
What would that entail, exactly? A cold war is a war without conflict, defined in one of several online dictionaries as "[a] state of rivalry and tension between two factions, groups, or individuals that stops short of open, violent confrontation." In that respect, is the current political climate one of "cold civil war"? I think arguments could be made to that effect. My mother, not much of a political enthusiast, has made similar assessments since the 2000 election ...
Indeed. A year before this next election in the U.S., the common space required for civil debate and civilized disagreement has shrivelled to a very thin sliver of ground. Politics requires a minimum of shared assumptions. To compete you have to be playing the same game: you can't thwack the ball back and forth if one of you thinks he's playing baseball and the other fellow thinks he's playing badminton. Likewise, if you want to discuss the best way forward in the war on terror, you can't do that if the guy you're talking to doesn't believe there is a war on terror, only a racket cooked up by the Bushitler and the rest of the Halliburton stooges as a pretext to tear up the constitution.
Americans do not agree on the basic meaning of the last seven years. If you drive around an Ivy League college town -- home to the nation's best and brightest, allegedly -- you notice a wide range of bumper stickers, from the anticipatory ("01/20/09" -- the day of liberation from the Bush tyranny) to the profane ("Buck Fush") to the myopically self-indulgent ("Regime Change Begins At Home") to the exhibitionist paranoid ("9/11 Was An Inside Job"). Let's assume, as polls suggest, that next year's presidential election is pretty open: might be a Democrat, might be a Republican. Suppose it's another 50/50 election with a narrow GOP victory dependent on the electoral college votes of one closely divided state. It's not hard to foresee those stickered Dems concluding that the system has now been entirely delegitimized.
Obviously the vast majority of Americans are not foaming partisans. It would be foolish to adduce any general theories from, say, Mr. "Ed Funkhouser," who emailed me twice in the small hours of Tuesday: the first epistle read, in total, "who needs facts indeed. How do you live with yourself, scumbag?" An hour and a half later he realized he'd forgotten to make his devastating assessment of my sexual orientation, and sent a follow-up: "you are a f--kin' moron. and probably queer too!" No doubt. Mr. Funkhouser and his friends on the wilder shores of the Internet are unusually stirred up, to a degree most Americans would find perverse. Life is good, food is plentiful, there are a million and one distractions. In advanced democracies, politics is not everything, and we get on with our lives. In a sense, we outsource politics to those who want it most and participate albeit fitfully in whatever parameters of discourse emerge. For half a decade, the "regime change" and "inside job" types have set the pace.
But that, too, is characteristic of a cold war. In the half-century from 1945, most Americans and most Russians were not in active combat. The war was waged by small elite forces through various useful local proxies. In Grenada, for example, Maurice Bishop's Castro-backed New Jewel Movement seized power from Sir Eric Gairy, the eccentric prime minister, in the first-ever coup in the British West Indies. Mr. Bishop allowed the governor general, Sir Paul Scoon, to remain in place (if memory serves, they played tennis together) and so bequeathed posterity the droll paradox of the only realm in which Her Majesty the Queen presided over a politburo. Though it wasn't exactly a critical battleground, Grenada springs to mind quite often when I think of cultural institutions in the U.S. and the West. The grade schools no longer teach American history as any kind of coherent narrative. "Paint me warts and all," Oliver Cromwell instructed his portraitist. But in public education, American children paint only the warts -- slavery, the ill-treatment of Native Americans, the pollution of the environment, more slavery ... There are attempts to put a positive spin on things -- the Iroquois stewardship of the environment, Rosa Parks' courage on the bus -- but, cumulatively, heroism comes to be defined as opposition to that towering Mount Wartmore of dead white males. As in Grenada, the outward symbols are retained -- the flag, the Pledge of Allegiance -- but an entirely new national narrative has been set in place.
Well, it takes two to have a cold civil war. The right must be doing some of this stuff, too, surely? Up to a point. But for the most part they either go along, or secede from the system -- they home-school, turn to talk radio and the Internet, read Christian publishers' books that shift millions of copies without ever showing up on a New York Times bestsellers list. The established institutions of the state remain under the monolithic control of forces that ceaselessly applaud themselves for being terrifically iconoclastic:
Hollywood's latest war movie? Rendition. Oh, as in the same old song?
A college kid writes a four-word editorial in a campus newspaper -- "Taser this: F--k Bush" -- and the Denver Post hails him as "the future of journalism. Smart. Confident. Audacious." Anyone audacious enough to write "F--k Hillary" or "F--k Obama" at a college paper? Or would the Muse of Confident Smarts refer you to the relevant portions of the hate-speech code?
Speaking of which, Columbia University won't allow U.S. military recruiters on campus because "Don't ask, don't tell" discriminates against homosexuals, but it will invite Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose government beheads you if they think you're bebottoming.
It's curious to encounter the soft-left establishment's hostility to the state. Go back to that line of Gibson's: free peoples develop "Stockholm Syndrome" about government all over the world, not least in Stockholm. It seems a mite inconsistent to entrust government to manage your health care and education and to dictate what you can and can't toss in the trash, but then to fret over them waging war on your behalf. Perhaps the next president will be, as George W. Bush promised, "a uniter, not a divider." Perhaps some "centrist Democrat" or "maverick Republican" will win big, but right now it doesn't feel that way.
Asked what would determine the course of his premiership, Britain's Harold Macmillan famously replied, "Events, dear boy, events." Yet in the end even "events" require broad acknowledgement. For Republicans, 9/11 is the decisive event; for Democrats, late November 2000 in the chadlands of Florida still looms larger. And elsewhere real hot wars seem to matter less than the ersatz Beltway battles back home. "The domestic political debate has nothing to do with what we're doing here," one U.S. officer in Iraq told the National Review's Rich Lowry this week, "in a representative comment offered not in a spirit of bitterness, but of cold fact." As Lowry remarked, "This is the lonely war" -- its actual progress all but irrelevant to the pseudo combat on the home front. In Neuromancer, William Gibson defined "cyberspace" as "a consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators in every nation." The "cold civil war" may be another "consensual hallucination," but for many it's more real than "the lonely war."
That's exactly what it is.
Mark Steyn with another gem. Food for intellectual thought.
His columns are the kind you read slowly, because of all of the profound thoughts contained therein.
Many here on FR allude to a looming type of civil war, that society has fractured along invisible fault lines, some dealing with reality and some dealing with rabid liberalism, some along the lines of failed Socialist policies that are trying to be resurrected, even after their utter failure has been exposed.
In American history this fractionalization of political thought reminds me of 1860, when the fissures of the body politic became deep, undeniable and irreversible.
I can only pray that the election decision next year does not become a close result ala 2000, but a decisive decision by the American electorate, one way or the other.
A house divided against itself cannot stand.
Shades of 1860 indeed.
The nomination process is failing before our eyes, too many, too early, "final" choices made NINE MONTHS BEFORE the election.
There will either be a religious right third party, or a fusion "national unity" center party, or even both. The left will rally around Hillary, and the GOP nomination won't be worth a pitcher of warm spit.
The witch may very well be elected with 35% of the popular vote, with 65% of the votes split to her right.
She will of course govern as if she won in a landslide.
Unlikely. The separation between the conservative red states and the liberal blue cities is a profound chasm; the two sides increasingly operate off different perceptions of reality and different reasoning processes. The difference is as stark as night and day: capitalism versus socialism, Judeo-Christian morals versus atheistic moral relativism, American exceptionalism versus United Nations membership, victory as annihilation of terrorists versus victory as denial of terrorists.
I don’t know that it’s even theoretically possible now to unify the two sides of this chasm. Heck, The New York Times today published an editorial declaring that high taxes yield economic competitiveness. I don’t know any Oklahomans, now enjoying the lowest tax rate in the country, who could take such a contention seriously. But New Yorkers believe it. So we need to raise taxes to resuscitate the flailing economy, or we need to maintain or lower taxes (and drill for oil) to continue the prosperous economy.
There are many sides with multiple chasms.
We’ve been using the expression “Cold Civil War” here on FR for at least four years, but it’s still nice for Steyn to notice.
Hree’s a link I found in about two seconds to Cold Civil War, from 2003 on FR.
"The Iranian question will be revisited. Due to a national emergency the presidency will be temporarily eliminated in favor of some kind of collective leadership via Congress or the states, with the possible participation of the military. There will be a second civil war with tremendous loss of life."
Not a cause for confidence.
Still, You cant deny that Steyn is a master wordsmith
Even stranger, that thread is from Oct. 21, 2003, almost 4 years ago to the day.
Besides, I've done a bit of wordsmithing myself.
Whatever it takes.
Ahhh... I should have recognized that you coined the term.
I’d be chapped too.
Jim, thank you for your thoughtful comments.
This may be a controversial thought, but I believe that the 2008 election is the Republicans to win or lose, especially if the Demon candidate is Her Heinous.
Because of what is at stake if she is the nominee, many on the right, even if Guilani becomes the R candidate, will vote against Hillary. Resistance will be against a third party, knowing full well this is the only way Hillary gets in. I wouldn’t put it past Hillary that she is actively trying to make this happen, that’s how political cunning she is. To me that’s the only explanation for Ron Paul’s inexplicable showing in the polls, and the man is certifiable.
But if the Republicans cannot defeat Hillary in 2008, a candidate with more real dirt on her than any other candidate in American history, and the GOP pulls another 1996 Dole/Kemp disaster, they deserve to join the Whigs on the ash-heap of political history.
I’ll be a broken glass Republican just one more time.
But never again. By 2012, we’ll have a constitutionally based third party if the GOP doesn’t get its bearings again.
Then again, we may have a new civil war before Hillary’s first term is over.
The illusion is over.
It’s fine with me, I’m sure others used it before me. I just googled it, and that FR thread from 2003 came up first. I almost fell off my chair when I read down the thread looking for the first mention of CCW, and came across 19. I didn’t read it that closely though, maybe it was already used up thread.
“The separation between the conservative red states and the liberal blue cities is a profound chasm; the two sides increasingly operate off different perceptions of reality and different reasoning processes. The difference is as stark as night and day: capitalism versus socialism, Judeo-Christian morals versus atheistic moral relativism, American exceptionalism versus United Nations membership, victory as annihilation of terrorists versus victory as denial of terrorists.”
That is one of the most profundly perceptive statements I have read in some time. Kudos to you for articulating it so well.
May I borrow it?
The question is what might turn this into a "Hot" civil war? Despite the common fantasy on the fringes of the Left very few in the entire world are being assaulted for attempting to turn their respective governments toward world socialism, but quite a few are being assaulted by their respective governments simply for hoping for some sort of democracy. One might have thought that this fits into the "progressive" paradigm, and one would have been mistaken - these movements are, broadly, abandoned and even cursed by "progressives." I cite Burma, China, Tibet, Iraq, Iran, Zimbabwe, and Cuba as examples. That list isn't exhaustive by far.
What we have here is a blatant abandonment of principle in favor of faction, politics in its most primitive, unthinking, tribal form. One of the things that makes it primitive is its proclivity for violence. We see this today in the identity of who gets shouted down on campus - left or right? Who gets their tires slashed at election time, their cars keyed, their signs stolen, left or right? And so the answer to the question of what might turn this into a "Hot" civil war is, I am afraid, the mere ability of the violent Left to get away with it.
I can think of several things that might encourage that. One, with us already, is the willingness of clearly partisan media to ignore or excuse acts of violence on the part of those whose cause they tend to view sympathetically. Another is the systematic disarmament of the enemies of the Left. Those who think "gun nuts" are the only ones to be concerned about this had better reconsider. Another still is the encouragement of violence by proxy in the form of inflaming sundry grievances on the part of the resentful. Yet another, and perhaps most dangerous of all, is the capture or subversion of state resources toward political violence that is disguised as enforcement of legitimate authority.
It is that last that concerns me the most. When politics at the national level is as tribal as some on the Left appear today we have the very real possibility of turning this "Cold" civil war into a "Hot" one. And inasmuch as the Left has displayed a consistent tendency to presage its acts by accusations toward the Right, one can readily imagine that those who desperately fantasize about a BushCo police state might not flinch at establishing a real one of their own. Those who cannot or choose not to differentiate between their own paranoid imaginings and legitimate abuse are more than capable of the latter.
The Jews found out about all of this in Nazi Germany - systematically divorced from political representation, systematically disarmed, hostile media giving moral sanction to systematic violence against them, and finally systematically murdered by a people so morally confused by then that it seemed justifiable. I invoke the "system" repeatedly here because no one in it bore personal responsibility until it was thrust back upon them at Nuremburg. It was a thoroughly evil fantasy world that manifested itself in the real one. It could happen here.
If it ever does, the resulting Hot Civil War would end up violent beyond imagination. Some on both sides fantasize this with the eagerness born of ignorance. In the comic books the blood is only red ink. In the movies, corn syrup. In the real world, it's blood.
All IMHO and subject to debate as always, of course.
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