Wherever the corpse is …

ἔσχατον: The Movie

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That’s the video from The Decemberists for their latest single “Calamity Song.” It’s based on the thermonuclear armageddon game devised by students at the Enfield Tennis Academy, which the students called “Eschaton” — from the New Testament term for the last day, the day of judgment.

That’s the source of the word “eschatology,” the branch of theology involving ultimate things and the end of the world. Both ultimate and end there in more than one sense of those words. (Of course, the term “eschaton” might be better known these days as the name of a sardonic blog about macroeconomics, Supertrains and the urban hell-hole of central Philly.)

All of which is to say that you really owe it to yourself to read David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest at some point.

I recommend the use of three bookmarks: one for the main text, one for the endnotes in the back of the book (which are not optional) and one for page 223, on which you will find a chronology of subsidized time — something you’ll likely need to consult from time to time, as it were.

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In the current issue of Rolling Stone I note that the eminent Dr. Osbourne offers an alternative perspective to the one I advocated in our most recent Left Behind discussion.

This is from the “Ask Dr. Ozzy” column:

Q: I’m worried that the world is falling apart. What should I stock my basement with in case things turn really bad?

A: If things take a really bad turn, how the [frak] can you be so sure you’ll still have a basement? Stop being so paranoid, man. If you think the world’s about to end — which it ain’t — you should be worrying about how much fun you can have before the [skata] hits the fan, not how you’ll survive when the beans run out and your gran turns into a zombie.

So my advice to the Tribulation Force is “flee to the mountains,” while Ozzy’s advice is “eat, drink and be merry.”

Those are two very different approaches, but we’re both quoting Matthew 24, and neither one of us is worried about putting the furniture into storage.

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Mike Lofgren also sounds like he’s channeling Jesus’ “mini-apocalypse” from Matthew’s Gospel. After 28 years as a respected congressional staffer — including 16 years staffing the Republican House and Senate Budget Committees — he is heading for the hills, leaving the Capitol behind and prophesying that “all will be thrown down” in the desolating sacrilege to come.

Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult” unveils the accelerating decline of the Republican Party. Lofgren’s diagnosis is grim. His prescription is …

Actually, Lofgren doesn’t offer a prescription. He regards this as a terminal condition. That’s why he left.

To those millions of Americans who have finally begun paying attention to politics and watched with exasperation the tragicomedy of the debt ceiling extension, it may have come as a shock that the Republican Party is so full of lunatics. To be sure, the party, like any political party on earth, has always had its share of crackpots. … But the crackpot outliers of two decades ago have become the vital center today: Steve King, Michele Bachman (now a leading presidential candidate as well), Paul Broun, Patrick McHenry, Virginia Foxx, Louie Gohmert, Allen West. The Congressional directory now reads like a casebook of lunacy.

It was this cast of characters and the pernicious ideas they represent that impelled me to end a nearly 30-year career as a professional staff member on Capitol Hill. A couple of months ago, I retired. …

It should have been evident to clear-eyed observers that the Republican Party is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely ideological authoritarian parties of 20th century Europe. …

Among the GOP base, there is constant harping about somebody else, some “other,” who is deliberately, assiduously and with malice aforethought subverting the Good, the True and the Beautiful: Subversives. Commies. Socialists. Ragheads. Secular humanists. Blacks. Fags. Feminazis. The list may change with the political needs of the moment, but they always seem to need a scapegoat to hate and fear.

It is not clear to me how many GOP officeholders believe this reactionary and paranoid claptrap. I would bet that most do not. But they cynically feed the worst instincts of their fearful and angry low-information political base with a nod and a wink. …

It is the apocalyptic frame of reference of fundamentalists, their belief in an imminent Armageddon, that psychologically conditions them to steer this country into conflict, not only on foreign fields (some evangelicals thought Saddam was the Antichrist and therefore a suitable target for cruise missiles), but also in the realm of domestic political controversy. It is hardly surprising that the most adamant proponent of the view that there was no debt ceiling problem was Michele Bachmann, the darling of the fundamentalist right. What does it matter, anyway, if the country defaults? — we shall presently abide in the bosom of the Lord.

Some liberal writers have opined that the different socio-economic perspectives separating the “business” wing of the GOP and the religious right make it an unstable coalition that could crack. I am not so sure. There is no fundamental disagreement on which direction the two factions want to take the country, merely how far in that direction they want to take it. The plutocrats would drag us back to the Gilded Age, the theocrats to the Salem witch trials. In any case, those consummate plutocrats, the Koch brothers, are pumping large sums of money into Michele Bachman’s presidential campaign, so one ought not make too much of a potential plutocrat-theocrat split.

Read the whole thing.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    1) They genuinely feel entitled to rule. The idea of honest competition
    challenged their worldview in ways that they found frightening.

    2)
    Many Republican politicians are racists. Plenty ave said vicious things
    about Obama that are anti-black. Others are perfectly willing to
    promote racism and ignorance if it means that they can divide the
    country and get what they see as their throne back. (Hence things like
    the “birther” movement.)

    3) The Republican leadership
    insisted, right up to Election Day, that Obama had no chance; McCain had
    it all sewn up. Many polls insisted that McCain was wildly popular and
    would win in a walk.

    Seen in that light, their hatred of Bill Clinton in less distilled form was a dress rehearsal. They couldn’t be racist against Clinton because he’s white, but he was willing to do more for blacks than Republicans would – trying to give them a shot at decent health care, raising taxes on the rich (which we all know means those people get more welfare in Republicanspeak), and other things which even the milquetoastiest of Dems believe in but Repiublicans don’t (such as separating school and religion).

    And I’m pretty sure they thought Bush the first would walk away with the Presidency in a heartbeat. He’d actually been President when the USSR imploded, and he’d gotten a huge approval rating kick from picking up a crappy little country and beating it up.

    Didn’t happen.

    And now, primed to go off like a Roman Candle when Dems win, the Repubs are turning it on full force for Obama – digging in their heels and doing everything they can to avoid turning the wheels of government so as to make Obama look bad so they can get back to cutting taxes for rich people.

  • Lori

     They couldn’t be racist against Clinton because he’s white, but he was willing to do more for blacks than Republicans would  

    It wasn’t just that he would do more for AAs, it was that he liked them and genuinely felt comfortable with them. Don’t forget that people referred to Clinton as our first black president. That was all part & parcel of why they held him in such contempt. 

    And yes, racism obviously plays a huge part in the Tea Party meltdown, but I think the meltdown would have been just as complete if Clinton had won. Misogyny runs as deep or deeper with plenty of people than racism does. 

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    4) A lot of Republicans are fundamentalists with “last days”
    mentalities. This means that, to them, there is no casual political
    battle and that there can be no compromise. Everything is embued with
    vast significance; every struggle may be critical if the kingdom is to
    be saved.

    Al Gore’s book explained some of this, too, as he introduced the meaning of a Manichean battle and why some people believe in it – this idea that two opposing sides are not in a good faith debate about the nature of society and the relationship of government and society, but are instead locked in a titanic death struggle akin to the battles of Greek or Norse gods of old.

    That, Gore pointed out, is dangerous because it takes away a major foundation of stability in a democratic system: the idea that politics is the good faith working out of a compromise between multiple points of view.

    I can’t believe Democrats haven’t figured this out by now. If they have, they’ve been spending a shitload of time spinning their wheels doing a shitty job of figuring out how to short-circuit this Republican obsession with politics as struggle (which, incidentally, is one characteristic of Ur-Fascism).

    I’m guessing if the Dems have figured this out, they’re either assuming that they can keep giving the Repubs enough rope to hang themselves, which by now is into the several-mile zone and would make Haman jealous, or they’ve decided to fig-leaf their policies with a little bit of surface decency while diving into the piggy trough of lobbyist dollars and taking the money and running.

    Neither is a very sterling view of what Democrats should have been strategizing for come the election of Barack Obama.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    No kidding.  It seems like either the Dems think that if they just capitulate hard enough THIS time, the GOP will listen to them NEXT time (which hasn’t worked yet, so it MUST be due!), or they simply don’t actually care about getting their alleged policies passed.

    Neither possibility makes me at all enthusiastic about voting for them.

  • Anonymous

    If someone really believes that they’re in Ragnarok or the Apocalypse or something like that, how do you defeat them within the context of a liberal democratic system? I agree that the Democrats capitulate way, way too often and need to start being tougher, but I don’t know how they can change the way the opposition does business. If people keep voting for the Bachmanns (and the Cheneys, for that matter) of the GOP, how do you go from ‘titanic death struggle’ to meaningful compromise and effective government?

  • Anonymous

    That last thing is part of the reason why I always roll my eyes when people disillusioned with Obama start implying that everything would be completely different if Clinton had won the nomination. Because, you know, hard-right wingers just adore powerful, prominent women. And if Clinton had won, then Joe Lieberman and the Blue Dogs would have turned into good little progressives, and the filibuster system wouldn’t have been broken, and wealthy special interests wouldn’t have had such a large role in controlling the political narrative.

    Oh, and no one would ever spread paranoid conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton. Nope.

    There are definitely situations where Clinton might have been an improvement but some people are naive when they suggest that the same elements that sandbagged her when Bill Clinton was in office wouldn’t have resurfaced again. With Obama, at least they had to come up with some new material; Clinton already had people who believe that she is a serial killer (and I wish I were making that up, but I’m not).

  • Mr. Heartland

    3. “The Republican leadership insisted, right up to Election Day, that
    Obama had no chance; McCain had it all sewn up. Many polls insisted that
    McCain was wildly popular and would win in a walk.”

    To be fair about that point, every politician is always publicly certain about his pending victory.  It’s mostly ‘puffery’ in advertising jargon.  They want to do what they can to ensure their own supporters are motivated to go to the polls or maybe even cause some in the opposition to stay home out of despair.

    Confidence is of course a factor in any competitive enterprise, though it seems clear that those engaged in such enterprises, do tend to overestimate the importance of confidence.  This is doubly true with politicians with their tendency towards hubris.  ‘It is my positive energy and nothing more that moves my people to the polls to vote for me.’  So claims to certain triumph are boilerplate.  And following politics requires building a healthy tolerance for such claptrap.  

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Confidence is of course a factor in any competitive enterprise, though it seems clear that those engaged in such enterprises, do tend to overestimate the importance of confidence.  This is doubly true with politicians with their tendency towards hubris.  ‘It is my positive energy and nothing more that moves my people to the polls to vote for me.’  So claims to certain triumph are boilerplate.  And following politics requires building a healthy tolerance for such claptrap.

    True, though I think that many of the people who vote for such politicians on the basis of their confidence tend to invest a little too much of themselves into such rhetoric.  The more rational of them will realize it is a technique and accept it for what it is, the less rational of them will feel “cheated” if the candidate they believe in, who told them that they would win, does in fact, not win.  And because the candidate that they believed in cannot be wrong (because that might make the people who voted for them wrong by extension) it must be the fault of some other agency.  

    It leads to disaffected voters going, “Raaaah!  Me angry!  Tea Party smash!”  

  • Mr. Heartland

    Well sure, that’s true.  And it’s true that zealots for any cause always imagint an army of secret supporters, who only need one big display of power and determination to inspire them to come out of the woodwork and join the final triumph.

  • Anonymous

    If someone really believes that they’re in Ragnarok or the Apocalypse or something like that, how do you defeat them within the context of a liberal democratic system? I agree that the Democrats capitulate way, way too often and need to start being tougher, but I don’t know how they can change the way the opposition does business. If people keep voting for the Bachmanns (and the Cheneys, for that matter) of the GOP, how do you go from ‘titanic death struggle’ to meaningful compromise and effective government?

    I guess the only way to defeat them would be only way you can do anything else… win a majority of the votes.  If they’re really that crazy, their craziness will soon become apparent, and most people won’t support them.  Of course, they may well then be so convinced that it is Ragnarok that they wholly reject the new government… at which time you stop them, by any means neccessary.
    That said, if there’s actually a crazy majority, it may well be time to find alternative citizenship…

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    …there is constant harping about somebody else, some “other,” who is deliberately, assiduously and with malice aforethought subverting the Good, the True and the Beautiful: Subversives. Commies. Socialists. Ragheads. Secular humanists. Blacks. Fags. Feminazis.

    EC Comics (1950s Seduction of the Innocent Satanic Panic)…
    Dungeons & Dragons (1970s-80s Satanic Panic)…
    Harry Potter (1990s-2000s Witchcraft Satanic Panic)…
    Who’s going to be the next Satanic Threat to Our Children?  My Little Pony?


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