10 years ago: The Most Critical Time in the History of the World

May 18, 2003, on this blog: The Most Critical Time in the History of the World

A while back, Josh Marshall posted a nasty little piece of hate mail he received … that illustrated this point.

It’s the typical supercilious undergrad tone — the kind of thing written by people who want to be Ben Shapiro when they grow small. But one sentence in particular (and yes, this is all one sentence, if not quite one thought) stood out:

This may be the most critical time in the history of the modern world much less of our country; and it is my fervent hope that the American People will remember and appropriately reward those, like you, who have chosen to use this opportunity to forward a political cause, and not incidentally their own careers, by attempting to sabotage an honorable effort to make the world a safer, better place.

You have to love the uppercase “American People” — and I’m guessing this guy never expresses a hope without it being “fervent.” But the important part here is the section in bold — that ours is “the most critical time in … history.”

Like many people who blindly support[ed] this war — including perhaps many in the White House and the Pentagon — the writer is desperate for his life to have some greater meaning or purpose than it apparently does. He hasn’t quite managed to stare into the abyss, but he’s taken a quick glance in its direction and seen something deep and dark and frightening that he doesn’t quite know how to deal with.

“All flesh is grass,” the prophet Isaiah said, and “the grass withereth.” This guy, understandably, doth not want to wither. He wants his life to matter, to mean something. He wants to be remembered after he is gone.

He has given this war a metaphysical, religious significance. For him, the war isn’t about oil, or “liberating” Iraq, or overthrowing an evil dictator. It’s grander than that — grander even than the dreams of empire that seem to be motivating Cheney, Perle and Wolfowitz. This war is an attempt to give his life meaning by turning our times into “the most critical time in the history of the modern world.” If our times are meaningful, he hopes (fervently), then our lives must also be meaningful.

The writer gives his life meaning by taking a part in this great, epochal, transcendent struggle.

And note how easy, how undemanding of sacrifice, it is for him to play a role in this epochal, historic event. All he has to do is watch Fox News and fire-off the occasional sophomoric e-mail — maybe even wave a flag, attend a corporate-radio rally, or rename some snack food.

This letter-bomber is not the only one narcotizing his existential crisis with an enthusiasm for “shock and awe.” This is widespread — it’s one of the reasons it is nearly impossible to have a civil conversation with our fellow Americans who believe — or want to believe, or need to believe — Bush’s baseless arguments for capricious war.

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  • I hope he’s happy with the way it turned out, at least.

  • …maybe even wave a flag, attend a corporate-radio rally, or rename some snack food.

    Oh geez, were we already at the “freedom fries” point back then? I was just about to say, how trivial & petty can you get, but then, well, umbrella.

  • Dave Johnson

    how we won the James Randi Paranormal Challenge…. as if anyone cares for your BABBLE…



  • Nick

    So what’s the answer? How do we avoid the ennui that leads to this kind of attitude, become poor (thus having a few less “possibilities” going on)?

  • Ima Pseudonym

    Fuck off Markuze.

  • Nick Gotts

    Markuze shows up here? Makes a denizen of FtB feel quite at home ;-)

  • Katie

    Find a hobby. Something that you care about, that interests you, that lets you make the world a slightly better place every day.

  • Space Marine Becka

    I think the problem is that while the possibilities seem endless the problems still manage to seem insurmountable.

    And climate change and it’s knock on effects mean that this really IS a critical time in human history – if something isn’t done we’re pretty much screwed and our ennui will come crashing down around our ears – and we’re rapidly reaching the point of no return. But dealing with climate change is hard, so it’s much easier to support a war than fix climate change especially since the latter means sacrifice.



    I read a surprisingly insightful article in the Financial Times about why people seem determined to sit on their hands and do nothing. I’m going to link it but you will need to log in to read it (but not pay – the FT lets people access eight articles a month for free). http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/c926f6e8-bbf9-11e2-a4b4-00144feab7de.html#axzz2TjALA1qz (I don’t normally read the FT btw but someone linked it on twitter and it is worth the hassle of subscribing).

    I bang on about Climate Change a lot, don’t I? It’s one of my issues. It and the Tory’s villification of the poor and disabled and the way people who should know better are lapping it up (grrr).

  • And amid all this? The Tea Party has been squalling like a kid throwing toys out of the pram because they tried applying for tax-exempt status and several IRS heads have had to be fired.

    One would almost think this was a deliberate strategy by the Republican party to discredit the IRS.


    The IRS apologized last week for improperly targeting conservative political groups for additional, sometimes burdensome scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status.

    Oh god, this kind of crap makes me want to hurl.

    Nobody said the IRS nay when they started auditing people claiming the EITC in greater numbers than auditing Coca-Cola Ltd., but heaven forfend they dare question the word of “God-fearing patriots”. (bleeeeeeeccccccccch)

  • Most people don’t have this kind of ennui. Those that do, lack imagination.

  • smrnda

    Aren’t political activism groups excluded from tax-exempt status? So they’re pissed off because the IRS is enforcing the rules and that the IRS isn’t so stupid that it thinks a clearly partisan political movement with a very well-known label hasn’t just declared itself to be ‘social welfare’ instead of ‘politics?’

  • Nick Gotts

    In both these case, the lie machine of the right can tap into the worst features of human psychology: the tendencies to refuse to accept unpleasant (or “inconvenient”) truths, to blame the messenger, and to look for scapegoats weak enough to be victimised in times of trouble. I believe there’s some evidence that explicitly drawing people’s attention to features of human psychology that distort judgement can have at least some effect in mitigating the problem concerned.

  • Lori

    There are rules about political action by tax exempt groups, but Citizens United created some confusion about how the rules should be applied. The IRS office Ohio was understaffed, poorly managed and received unclear direction on how to apply the new rules. As a result they sort of ran amok. The fact that the Tea in Tea Party originally stood for Taxed Enough Already (an explicitly political statement) caused them to make the not exactly ridiculous decision to use key words associated with Tea Party groups (like Tea Party and Patriot) as one filter to determine which groups would have their to 501(c) claims flagged for additional scrutiny.

    One rather important detail of this story that you would never know if you only listened to Right wing sources like Fox and the yapping heads on the Sunday shows and Peggy Noonan’s inane OpEd column is that while the Tea Party was targeted inappropriately, but not targeted exclusively. A number of Left wing groups received the exact same questionnaire that the Teas received. The Teas are not martyrs and Obama wasn’t pulling the strings of the Cincinnati IRS office from Pennsylvania Ave.

    It should also be noted that the Right wing claims of retaliatory audits don’t pass the smell test at all. As Nate Silver pointed out, they’re once again making the same type of statistical error that lead them to be sure that Romney was going to be elected.

  • :::::::::::
    You’re not in jail yet?