Krugman, 9/11 and Absolutes: "What if I am wrong?" UPDATED

Yesterday, someone sent me a link to Paul Krugman’s already-infamous 9/11 Vomit O’ Venom, launched at all of his favorite boogeymen, and I duly posted it to facebook but didn’t think much beyond what I wrote back to my friend: “the man seems a wreck. A small fellow feeling impotent; so much of what he is sure of, he is not sure of, at all. This says so much more about him than it does anyone else.”

And because I was busy, I put it out of my mind.

This morning, though, Glenn Reynolds has a fascinating post of reactions (linked and emailed) about Krugman’s terrified little bleat — and that is ultimately what it seemed like to me. I read his post and immediately got an image of a small guy, hugging a pillow and cowering in his closet. That is similar to the image I have harbored of Maureen Dowd, since immediately after 9/11 — on her bed in a fetal position, with a gasmask on her bedpost and a bottle of cipro between her knees. More than anything, Krugman and Dowd have, since 9/11, seemed utterly terrified by an event that didn’t fit their worldview and which forced them to depend upon people they hated for their safety and security.

Rather like teenagers who hate that they actually need their stupid, out-of-touch parents, and must constantly howl about it to their friends, who join in because they realize they’re supposed to hate their parents, too.

Considered thusly, it is difficult to dislike them. I admit, I have an odd affection for both Krugman and Dowd; I rarely bother to read them, anymore, but when I do, I always feel like the universe is unfolding as it should, and I am therefore at peace.

I’m not trying to be mean. I have no animus toward either of them, and wish they could be happy; neither of them have seemed happy for at least a decade, perhaps longer. They are established people ensconced in their materially-very-comfortable lives, and they seem like terrified human beings freeze-framed in a perpetual scream whose source is known only to them, in the secret recesses of their hearts, where truth must be faced.

Getting back briefly, to Instapundit’s post, the email Glenn reprints, from an un-named professor struck me, because it reminded me of something I’d almost forgotten — a 9/12 phone call from an out-of-state friend, who said, “I wanted to call and see if you guys were alright,” — which was lovely and thoughtful — immediately followed with, “I guess this is what we get for electing Bush.”

Yes, the “we were all united, until Bush squandered it” narrative is pure fantasy. Let’s not forget, the rubble was still smoking when one writer was fretting over whether she should allow her daughter to buy a flag — with her own money — to put in their apartment window. What would the neighbors think?

All of that said, after reading an enormous amount of material yesterday, from perspectives “left” and “right,” blogs and magazines, secular and religious I ended the evening with C.S. Lewis, and the opening line to A Grief Observed:

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”

I am torn over our mourning; on one hand we need to mourn. On the other, are we still processing our loss with great shaking sobs — and in some cases with so much anger, much of it misdirected — because we have acknowledged loss, and addressed loss in myriad ways, but we have not as thoroughly processed our sense of fear?

We’re all so pugnacious in punditry — the venue demands that its voices are clear in their positions — that we all quickly staked out our spots post-9/11, and it ended up collecting us on either side of the ruins, shaking our fists of certainty at each other when the reality is, we are shaking them at ourselves.

And as long as we can focus on that fist-shaking, we don’t have to look at our fears or enumerate them: that our kids will never have the blissful personal or civic freedoms we grew up with, when a summer’s day was unencumbered by fears of strangers; that lakes could be jumped into without fears of brain-eating amoebas; that lemonade stands could be established without fear of citations and fines.

Well, we needn’t fear for those things anymore; they are mostly already lost. We already know it. But we don’t know what it means. Our fear is that it means America’s days are numbered; that they’re already over — that the future holds nothing save a jackboot — Orwell’s “boot, stamping on a human face, forever.”

Our fear is not physical: think of all the huge gatherings yesterday and full stadiums — we know they’re targets, but we packed them anyway, as we have since mere weeks after the 9/11 attack.

What we fear is our vulnerability to what we do not know, from our neighbor’s secret sins, to the next madman with means; our future is scaring the hell out of us, and because we are afraid, we cling to what we are sure of — those things about which we are absolutely sure we have gotten right.

Krugman is sure of what he knows — so sure, in fact, that he cannot imagine that anyone else does not know it, as well, “even people on the right know this, whether they admit it or not,” he writes in his screed, “in its heart, the nation knows…”

It must know it, because Krugman couldn’t possibly be wrong.

It strikes me that Krugman is, in his own way, taking an ironic stand against the dictatorship of relativism that our pope so frequently decries. After a lifetime of suggesting that there are many kinds of truth,** Krugman is now asserting that there is only ONE truth, and it is absolute. And it is his.

Pretty amusing. Of course, he is confusing truth with opinion, which often has nothing to do with reality. But then most of us do that, because we are uncomfortable with what reality means; it is an unwelcome concept.

Julie at Happy Catholic linked recently to a thoughtful and important presentation from “wrongologist” Kathryn Schulz. I thought after the emotion of yesterday, and all of the “rightness” and “wrongness” and the wrecked wretchedness, this might be give pause, and encourage some reflection, which is never a bad thing for any of us.

We may know what we know, but we do not know tomorrow; perhaps we might be able to make some progress toward ending the unproductive stalemate of the past ten years, if we — all of us — were able to unclench just a little from the drapes of wrath we’ve been clinging to (and hiding behind, in fear) to take one scary, vulnerable step away from our absolute certainties, and toward the stark realities, which we either deal with, or perish.

**Written on one cup of coffee; I would amend that to read, “after a lifetime’s affiliation with a relativistic philosophy…”**

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Jim Geraghty
at The Campaign Spot looks back further than 9/11 and everything we thought we knew, back then:

Think back to about fourteen or fifteen years ago, and everything you thought you knew at that moment.

You knew no president would be so reckless that he would get caught having sex with an intern in the Oval Office.

You may have worried about your kid’s safety at school, but you knew two alienated teenagers couldn’t turn their rage into a massacre.
The past fifteen years have been one rude awakening after another, where one unspoken assumption after another kept getting smacked around by a bipolar furious reality.

It is a tour-de-force and too long to justly exerpt. Go read the whole thing, because I think he is saying everything you feel!

UPDATE II: Tim Dalrymple writes poignantly and well, wondering Can Morning in America Dawn Anew? Don’t miss it!

UPDATE III: Lisa Graas makes a good point and a humbling one. I must learn to do better.

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  • Beatrix

    T – “So John (#17),

    “Since you seem to be a devotee of Krugman and his prescient economic accuracy, tell me, how’s his former employer doing lately? (That would be Enron)”

    For that matter, how’s his current employer doing? That would be the New York Times.

  • piddlesworth

    “Don’t you see liberals, Obama in particular, doing something similar today? All these calls for unity and “working together” to pass policies that conservatives are against? Do you not see that?”

    The huge difference is that progressives and liberals (and even President Obama, wherever you think he fits) are not telling conservatives to just “shut up” and adopt progressive positions, we are asking them only to adopt the exact positions they held just a few years ago in almost every case. No one is begrudging Ron Paul his “no” votes because he has been consistently against these proposals and can articulate a philosophy that is consistent through his voting, but that simply isn’t the case for the vast majority of Republicans on either count. If you want to talk specifically about the major bill under consideration right now, Republicans have supported infrastructure spending, tax cuts (including to payroll tax cuts), aid for state and local governments, unemployment benefits, etc.

    Before that the big brouhaha was over healthcare reform… but everything in the final bill there also was stuff that was previously supported by Republicans, almost all of it originating in conservative think tanks in fact, and when Democrats tried to sit down with Republicans to allow them to air their greivances make proposals since they had complained about an inability to do that before (remember that three-hour televised pow-wow that they held?) all Republicans could come up with that they would like to add to the bill was selling private health insurance across state lines and tort reform. But the former smells of political disingenuity since it is clearly a instance of the federal government interfering in states rights, and doing so in the worst way by forcing a race to the bottom among states until some state becomes like Delaware is to credit cards. (It also would in no way fix anything… can you think of any state right now which has such a great healthcare system that it would fix the country’s to simply export it everywhere? The best-off state in this regard is Massachusetts, and the final bill passed is essentially as close as we can get to that state model at a national level). And the latter has been shown in studies to not at all reduce costs but merely redistribute money from victims partly to doctors and mostly to insurance companies. And that was it, from which it becomes pretty obvious that Republicans just wanted to block anything from getting done at all, and Republicans have on numerous occasions said so anonymously to the press.

    I’ll remind you that, so far in Obama’s term, it’s been the Republicans who have repeatedly held stuff hostage (and that’s not me being rude, they’ve used that rhetoric themselves to describe their actions), not the Democrats, so the forcing has been almost entirely a one-way street over the past decade, and that has been forcing of Democrats by Republicans, not the other way around. If Republicans were winning the philosophical discussion, then that would be a different story, but they’ve been wrong about inflation, interest rates on US debt, the relationship between corporate profitability and job creation, and on and on, so at this point, since they refuse to offer another explanation of the world that actually reflects it and they further refuse to admit that how they were explaining it before was wrong, it’s clear that their goal is just obstructionism until (they hope) they can regain power, at which point they can just push Democrats around again without ever really making an effort to coherently explain how the world works.

  • TNC

    piddlesworth: So I guess you don’t see the similarity?