07 April 2009

It's Tuesday! Time for the Apocalypse!

Several points in defense of the thesis that if the world isn't going to hell, it's not for lack of trying:

1. Members of the Washington Post op-ed staff - not only Bill Kristol, but Anne Applebaum too! - think that getting rid of nuclear weapons is...a waste of time? I won't bother with Kristol. Applebaum:

...there is no evidence that U.S. nuclear arms reductions have ever inspired others to do the same. All of the world's more recent nuclear powers -- Israel, India, Pakistan -- acquired their weapons well after such talks began, more than 40 years ago.

Doesn't this strike you as both simplistic and a little sophistical? Yet even more bewildering:

...nuclear weapons, while terrifying in the abstract, are not an immediate strategic threat to Europe or the United States.

Except if they go off accidentally - or someone gets the wrong idea. Never mind the creeping normalization of the concept of nuclear war in our cultural psyche. To criticize Obama for the most progressive stance on disarmament in the past twenty years seems laughable - as at least some WaPo columnists have pointed out.

2. Maclean's magazine's Andew Potter links to a post by Vancouver writer Terry Glavin inveighing darkly against l'affair Galloway (in case you haven't been following, a variety of perspectives can be found here, here and here). Glavin:

The bigger story...is a kind of defining moment involves a phenomenon that is playing out on the same tectonic scale as the emergence of a distinctly Canadian democratic socialism in the 1930s, the Quiet Revolution in Quebec in the 1960s, and the rise of libertarian prairie populism in the 1990s. As is often the case in such upheavals, journalists are the last to notice.

Something wholly new is emerging in Canada, in all the spaces where the Left used to be, in its activist constituencies, its traditional institutions, and its lexicon. Whatever name you want to give the thing, its noticeable features include a betrayal of progressive internationalism, a pathetic weakness for conspiracy theories, and a routine apologetics for antisemitism and terror. Its outlook is generally parochial, but its global engagements tend to align with fascism’s contemporary Islamist variants, even to the point of objective support for the Taliban.

My sense is that Galloway is a smooth-talking, opportunistic rogue who adapts his popular demagogery to suit the times, and isn't worth all the fuss. I don't dismiss Glavin's broader point entirely out of hand because I have first-hand experience of the kind of attitudes he's talking about - when you're dressed down by a high-ranking person in an avowedly progressive student union for defending the free speech rights of a pro-life group (see Voltaire), you get a sense that the left can sometimes be as heedless of the means used to achieve their ends as the right. These particular battles have raged quietly at the University of Toronto and explosively at York U for at least a decade or more.

On the other hand, the very perpetuity of of these disputes makes me less concerned than Glavin that this sort of sea change is endemic on the left, or even exclusive to the left. I wish Glavin would explain what he meant by "a betrayal of progressive internationalism" -hasn't every Canadian government since Trudeau been variously guilty of that particular sin? As for apologists, they're rife it's true, on both sides of the political aisle. But the Quiet Revolution? I don't think so - in fact, cheering or fulminating against George Galloway is as good a recipe for long-term political irrelevance as I can come up with, and doing anything other than dismissing him quickly and neatly is a waste of time.

3. George Monbiot has an eye-popping piece in the Guardian about the criminally disingenuous favoritism inherent in the UK government's private finance initiatives (PFIs) or as we call them in Canada, public-private partnerships (PPPs). For a good Ontario example of what Monbiot's talking about, take a gander at this Auditor General of Ontario report on the construction of the William Osler Health Centre in Brampton - particularly page 113.

4. David Brooks declares philosophy dead.



Terry Glavin said...

It was not for nothing that it ended up being called the Quiet Revolution.



Luke said...

Fair enough, Terry - it's true, I wasn't even a twinkling in my parents' eyes at the time :)

Aldous said...

On the contrary, if the notion of nuclear war has become domesticated it is because societally we have become more familiar with its (il)logic - think of Wargames and more comfortable with the language of deterrence, for better or worse [pdf]. This may be problematic in the sense that we shouldn't be so comfortable thinking about the mass murder of billions, but this problem is also rendered innocuous by the overall incoherence of the notion of "nuclear war." Nobody seriously thinks that we should fight one, that one is winnable, or that we should expect it.

In addition, I do subscribe to the notion that nuclear first-use is quite robustly culturally proscribed [pdf].

This is why I don't lose sleep at night over the possibility of nuclear holocaust. Although I'm glad that others are worried about it, since this is one of the forces that lead towards the inevitable.