Terror Management and Depressive Realism

I happened across terror management theory. Intuitively, I find it compelling. It’s a basic explanation of an important aspect of human nature and how it is expressed in society.

It “proposes a basic psychological conflict that results from having a desire to live, but realizing that death is inevitable. This conflict produces terror, and is believed to be unique to human beings. Moreover, the solution to the conflict is also generally unique to humans: culture. According to TMT, cultures are symbolic systems that act to provide life with meaning and value. Cultural values therefore serve to manage the terror of death by providing life with meaning.”

The originators of this theory wrote a couple of books together, the authors being Solomon, Greenberg, and Pyszczynski. One book is The Worm at the Core. The other is In the Wake of 9/11. The introduction to that last book has some quotes from Americans describing the recollection of their thoughts and experiences following the 9/11 terrorist attack.

It’s been so long ago. I don’t normally think back to that time. The reign of Bush, from stolen election to the great recession, wasn’t a happy time for this country. The attack itself was just one tiny part of an era of gloom, the decade of the aughts.

Reading the quotations brought back my own experience of that event. I’m reminded of how atypical I am. My immediate response, upon first hearing about 9/11, was a lack of surprise. It somehow seemed inevitable to me, something that was bound to happen one way or another. It fit the mood of the times. Maybe nothing good was ever going to come out of the aughts. But, before that fateful day, we Americans had no idea how bad it could get with 9/11 along with it’s aftermath of War On Terror, endless war, and the growing intelligence-police state.

On the eve of 9/11, I had fallen asleep with the radio playing. The next morning, with the radio still on, I slowly returned to consciousness with news reports of some great catastrophe that had befallen the nation. I suppose that is a surreal thing to wake up to. But, as I recall, I didn’t think of it as shocking, unexpected, and abnormal. It fit into the world I knew, which obviously wasn’t the world most other Americans knew.

Let me explain why that was the case. There were a number of contributing factors to my mindset.

The radio being on is the most central factor for multiple reasons. One study found that people who heard about 9/11 on the radio, as compared to seeing it on television, were later on less supportive of Bush’s War On Terror. It wasn’t ideology or partisan politics that drove the public attitude of revenge and aggression. Rather, it was how the initial experience was mediated. (Never doubt the power of media. Also, never doubt that those who own and control media fully understand that power.)

At that time, radio was my lifeline to the world. I didn’t have a television or internet. Nearly all info came to me via words—from radio, newspapers, magazines, and books. The first image I saw of the burning buildings probably was from a newspaper and so probably was black-and-white. The vividness of the event wasn’t immediately conveyed to me. I didn’t sit around watching video of the attack on endless loop, as so many did, repeated imagery that created a permanently traumatized state of mind. I’m more of a verbal person and words do communicate in a different way than images.

There is another important factor related to my radio listening. The most common reason I’d fall asleep with the radio on is because of a particular radio show I regularly listened to, Coast to Coast AM with Art Bell. It was old school alternative media before the internet had made popular the new forms of alternative media.

Art Bell’s show was an island of independent thought, sandwiched in between the status quo liberalism of public radio and the crazed ranting of right-wing radio talk shows. Back in those days, when Art Bell still ran the show, it had a bit of a radical and leftist bent to it. But the guests themselves were all across the political spectrum, not to mention all across the sanity-insanity spectrum. Art Bell would allow almost anyone to talk, as long as they were basically honest and respectful.

It was from that show and other alternative media that I was initially educated about the goings on in the larger world. Coast to Coast AM would quite often have serious guests, including scholars, political commentators, investigative reporters, etc. From such guests and other sources, I became aware of the meddling of the US government around the world and aware of growing conflicts, terrorism, and much else. Unlike most Americans, I understood that blowback was coming our way and, when it hit, it would be a doozy.

The other thing is that I had been experiencing years of severe depression at that point. My emotions had already hit low points on such a regular basis and for such lengthy periods of time that I had grown familiar with despair and agony. About five years before, I had attempted suicide and been temporarily institutionalized. As such, suicide ideation was ever lingering on my mind, a regular contemplation of suffering and death. This led me to an attitude of depressive realism, a stark appraisal of human nature and the human world.

Maybe this inoculated me against terror of death. If anything, I was prone to emotional numbness from long-term psychological stress and over-exertion. My normal emotional response is a bit broken and my psychic reserves are typically not far above zero. Entrenched depression brings on regular bouts of cynicism. I’m prone to expecting the worse and being unsurprised when the worst comes.

It’s hard for me to sympathize with those who are surprised. The world is a shitty place. That seems obvious to me. It doesn’t take a terrorist attack to get me to notice this sad state of affairs.

Good Liberals vs Savage Nihilists

In every American community there are varying shades of political opinion. One of the shadiest of these is the liberals. An outspoken group on many subjects, ten degrees to the left of center in good times, ten degrees to the right of center if it affects them personally. Here, then, is a lesson in safe logic.
~ Phil Ochs, introduction to “Love Me, I’m a Liberal

I’ve grown impatient with liberalism or at least a particular variety of it. Maybe call it mainstream liberalism (e.g., Democratic partisanship), conservative-minded liberalism, or even reactionary liberalism. It is definitely liberalism, some might even consider it the primary example of liberalism, with its close kinship to classical liberalism. Whatever name is given, it is weak and inconsistent, an uninspiring example to say the least.

The advocates of it are the good liberals with their self-portrayed good intentions. And most of them do seem sincere about it. But from the perspective of comfortable lives, they ultimately are defenders of the status quo. In olden days, they probably would have argued for a Whiggish colonial worldview of progress (Manifest Destiny, converting the savages, etc) and they still tend to defend universal values and a globalist belief system based on neo-imperial neo-liberalism (promoting free trade, spreading democracy, etc).

The problem for this kind of liberal is this. Most of them lack the awareness to make these connections. Liberalism is centuries old now and its roots go even further back. It carries a lot of baggage that requires unpacking.

It’s taken me a while to more fully come around to this critical attitude. After all, I identity as a liberal. I’ve spent years defending the good name of liberalism from critics on both the left and the right. Yet I’ve entertained the possibility many times that it is a pointless battle. The word ‘liberal’ can seem meaningless, for all the ways it is used and abused.

My complaints here are hardly new. I’ve been fond of pointing out the problems of my tribe. I’m a liberal through and through, and for that reason I’d like to have a liberalism worth defending. But there is a particular kind of obtuseness and cluelessness that is found among the liberal class and they typically are of a class, only the libertarian demographic being wealthier than liberals on average. Thomas Frank, in Listen, Liberal, points out that they are the new professional class increasingly disconnected from the working class (even though the working class may hold a fair amount of liberal views, they don’t identify with the liberal worldview—as portrayed by the liberal class in the MSM).

One example I spent much time analyzing is Jonathan Haidt, with his typical liberal desire for everyone to just get along. This is a desire I share, except when the sentiment is used to compromise liberal values in an act of reaching out to those who don’t share liberal values. The main failing of Haidt is his mind being trapped in the mainstream paradigm of politics, leaving him oddly confused about what is liberalism and what makes the liberal mind tick.

Another example came to my attention, that of Kenan Malik, an author I’ve been casually following for a few years. That will be my focus here. In a recent essay (After Brussels: Once Again Thinking Through Terror), he discusses the terrorist attack in Brussels, Belgium. Something about it rubbed me the wrong way. Malik clearly stated his central premise and conclusion right at the beginning of the piece:

Contemporary terror attacks are not responses to Western foreign policy. What marks them out is their savage nihilistic character

There is something dismissive about this. It is more political rhetoric than cool, reasoned argument. It shuts down debate, rather than inviting discussion. The words chosen are intended to elicit emotion and incite reaction, to express the anger and frustration of the author and so bring the reader into that emotional space. Terrorism can have a way of closing down the liberal mind and, at such times, the liberal is drawn into the conservative worldview of us vs them (as research has shown: liberals who repeatedly saw tv footage of 9/11 attacks, as compared to radio listeners, were more likely to support the Bush administration’s War On Terror).

When Westerners kill innocent Arabs, it is justified military action. When Muslims kill innocent Westerners, it is terrorism and savage nihilism. Malik doesn’t put it so bluntly, which makes it all the worse, a soft-pedaling of prejudice.

Whether or not that is a fair appraisal of Malik, that was how it struck me. My first response to Malik’s essay was emotional. Skimming it, I intuitively sensed that it was more of an attempt to disregard a problem than to understand it, despite the stated intentions of analysis. The use of ‘nihilism‘ as a frame felt like a sledgehammer being brought down on my skull. So, yeah, I had a strong reaction.

It seems like a non-explanation. Most people who are nihilists aren’t violent. And most violent people aren’t nihilists. Simply concluding, based on no evidence, that Islamic terrorists are savage nihilists is the opposite of helpful. This offers no insight.

After some thought, I began to wonder what Malik meant by that word, nihilism. I was familiar with the basic sense of how it’s typically used. Most people use the word in indicating a lack of belief in meaning. And so to call someone ‘nihilistic’ is essentially to call them meaningless. This accords with Malik’s use of the word, as when he argues that, “This is not terrorism with a political aim, but terror as an end in itself.” He continues,

Terrorists often claim a political motive for their attacks. The trouble with much of the discussion of terrorism today is that it misses a fundamental point about contemporary terror: its disconnect from social movements and political goals. In the past, an organisation such as the IRA was defined by its political aims. Its members were carefully selected and their activities tightly controlled. However misguided we might think its actions, there was a close relationship between the aims of the organization and the actions of its members. None of this is true when it comes to contemporary terrorism. An act of terror is rarely controlled by an organisation or related to a political demand. That is why it is so difficult to discern the political or religious motivations of the Tsarnaev brothers. They neither claimed responsibility nor provided a reason for their actions. It was not necessary to do so. The sole point was to kill indiscriminately and to spread fear and uncertainty. Far from being part of a political or religious movement, what defines terrorists like the Boston bombers is their very isolation from such movements.

These terrorists supposedly lack all meaning, purpose, and reason. As such, they are the complete opposite of the Enlightened liberal. In the mainstream liberal worldview, violence is morally acceptable if and only if a good reason is given. Hundreds of thousands of people killed with good reason (e.g., Afghanistan War) is better than a dozen people killed with no clear reason at all (e.g., Boston Bombers).

The former is in defense of the liberal order (either as a supposed reality or an ideal to be achieved) and the latter undermines liberalism altogether. This ignores that the former easily can make the latter more probable. Actually, it’s not a matter of ignoring it. Malik acknowledges it, only to deny it. Westerners harming and killing millions of Middle Easterners for generations can have nothing to do with Middle Easterners committing terrorism in the West since 9/11.

It’s a total lack of context. Malik waves away the splintering of the Ottoman Empire after WWI, Western alliances with authoritarian regimes, overthrowing of governments, undermining of democracy and independence movements, promotion of theocracy, arming of para-military groups, military invasions and occupations, the endless drone attacks, failed neocon state building, neoliberal economic manipulations, neocolonial resource extraction, economic sanctions, food shortages and instability from droughts caused by climate change, mass unemployment and poverty, migration of refugees, xenophobic racism, ethno-nationalist nativism, European ghettoization of minorities, unemployment and economic problems in Europe since the Great Recession, etc. Nope. It’s just ‘nihilism’. There is a willful obtuseness about this.

As Patrick Cockburn explained (How politicians duck the blame for terrorism),

There has always been a disconnect in the minds of people in Europe between the wars in Iraq and Syria and terrorist attacks against Europeans… Separating the two is much in the interests of Western political leaders, because it means that the public does not see that their disastrous policies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and beyond created the conditions for the rise of Isis and for terrorist gangs such as that to which Salah Abdeslam belonged.

In After Paris, Malik writes the same sentiments that he repeats in other writings:

Such attacks are not about making a political point, or achieving a political goal – as were, for instance, IRA bombings in Britain in the 1970s and 1980s – but are expressions of nihilistic savagery, the aim of which is solely to create fear. This is not terrorism with a political aim, but terror as an end in itself.

He does admit that some terrorists are refugees. His argument, though, is that they aren’t the majority. That’s true. As I recall, something like 20% are refugees, which admittedly still is a large number. More important is the entire atmosphere. Even for non-refugee Muslims in Europe, they likely would be surrounded by and regularly in contact with Muslims who are refugees. In general, they’d be constantly reminded of the refugee crisis in the media, reminded of the public response of hatred and bigotry, and probably mistaken as a refugee themselves.

He is caught up in a typical liberal double-bind, unwilling to connect his liberal values to large issues, making it impossible for him to see what it means and so he ends up projecting meaninglessness onto terrorists. He can’t admit that normal people can turn to violence, often for normal reasons that are easily understood. He has to separate all issues as if they were isolated. Western foreign policies, climate change, refugee crisis, etc—none of this can be related to terrorism, and terrorism can’t be related to politics and religion in any way. It doesn’t even matter what the terrorists themselves say. We must not bring up the fact that, in the Paris attack, the terrorists openly stated concern about politics—a witness said: “I clearly heard them say ‘It’s the fault of (French President Francois) Hollande, it’s the fault of your president, he should not have intervened in Syria’. They also spoke about Iraq.” Terrorists in the attacks in Paris and elsewhere yelled “Allahu Akbar,” making their religious intentions known.

In response to a comment I made, Malik asked, “I wonder what ‘clear political message’ jihadists are sending to the West about its foreign policy when they slaughter 148 children in a Peshawar school, or kill dozens with a suicide bomb in a market in Beirut, or throw gays off a tower in Syria, or blow up a café in Morocco?” Well, he could simply pay attention to what the terrorists themselves say. Just because Malik doesn’t approve of their politics doesn’t mean they have no political motivations. What Malik denies is obvious to many others—such as Habib Siddiqui, from The Nihilistic Assaults on Paris, concluding that:

If we want a world in which human dignity is to be respected and honored, and human rights protected, our world leaders must learn to walk their talk. When they are silent about the horrible terrorist attacks in Turkey (that left approximately 128 people dead and 500 injured and in October) and Lebanon and are all agog about Paris, they send a wrong message. When they categorize Paris attacks as attacks on ‘civilization’, are we to interpret that the attacks in Beirut and Ankara were not against civilized people? Do French lives matter more than Lebanese, Turkish, Kurdish, and Yemeni ones? Were these not, too, “heinous, evil, vile acts”?” When they define Israel’s war-crimes on Gaza as acts of self-defense that is like mocking history, an insult to the memory of the thousands of dead Gazans, including hundreds of children, killed by the Israeli army. When their drone attacks against targeted individuals (the alleged terrorists) kill mostly unarmed, innocent civilians from Pakistan to Somalia, what they are committing are war crimes. Pure and simple! It is also an act of hypocrisy from a country that claims to be a firm defender of human rights and accountability.

Like many of the other colonial enterprises, the French society is imploding. Like the British and U.S. governments, it used the “civilizing” and “liberalizing” narrative to deny sovereignty, justify the colonization process and build an empire. Under Sarkozy, it defended the fallacy of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to support an illegal war. These “civilizing”, “liberalizing” or “national security” justifications were wrongful foreign policy narratives that have brought extensive suffering and had disastrous and long-term implications not only for the ‘other’ people in ‘liberated’ countries but also their own societies. As Malcolm X would say, the chickens have now come home to roost.

As long as the powerful governments fail to learn from its past mistakes they will likely perpetuate the long-lasting injustice of the area, obviate further atrocities, and prolong the suffering of entire populations. There is no escape from this sad outcome.

It also could be added that the Saudi Arabia, supposed friend and ally to the West, supports Islamic extremism. Yet Iraq which was a secular government that kept Islamic extremism in check was destroyed, allowing Islamic extremists to take over. Only a complete idiot wouldn’t see the connection to rising Islamic violence and the political significance of it all.

But Malik outright denies the validity of any external conditions and contributing factors in the larger world. There is just something different about these terrorists, he argues (After Brussels):

What draws young people (and the majority of would-be jihadis are in the teens or in their twenties) to jihadi violence is a search for something a lot less definable: for identity, for meaning, for belongingness, for respect. Insofar as they are alienated, it is not because wannabe jihadis are poorly integrated, in the sense of not speaking the local language or being unaware of local customs or having little interaction with others in the society. Theirs is a much more existential form of alienation.

This is a superficial way of looking at society. It doesn’t matter that, “The Kouachi brothers, for instance, responsible for the Charlie Hebdo killings in January were born and raised in Paris. So was Amedy Coulibaly, the gunman who, that same weekend, attacked a kosher supermarket in Paris and killed four Jews. Three of the four suicide bombers responsible for the 7/7 attack on London tubes and a bus were similarly born in Britain. Most of the 4000 or so Europeans who have joined IS as fighters have been European-born, and many have been professionals, and well integrated into society.”

Many European Muslims still experience the negative effects of xenophobia, racism, ghettoization, and other forms of isolation, exclusion, and prejudice. They aren’t treated as fully integrated by their fellow citizens. Simply being born in a country doesn’t mean most people will see you as an equal. It takes generations for assimilation to take place. Even after centuries, Jews and Romani have continued to struggle for acceptance and tolerance in Europe.

Malik’s belief that religion can be separated from racism is severely disconnected from reality (see Islamophobia: the othering of Europe’s Muslims by Hassan Mahamdallie). His confusion might come from his sympathy with classical liberalism. He has previously written (Strange Fruit, p. 87) that, “Enlightenment thinkers were less interested in the biological differences between human groups than in the distinction between civilization and savagery.” The problem is most people aren’t Enlightenment thinkers. In this age of highly advanced science, biological differences are an obsession for many and a basic framework for society in general.

Malik seems to want to put everything into cultural terms. To his mind, it’s not really religion or politics. It’s a shift in social attitude, a collapse of Western values. It’s civilization versus savagery. But he thinks he is being a good liberal by talking around the history behind this worldview. The English treated the Irish as savages not just because they were seen as uncivilized but because they were considered a racial other, even though biological theories weren’t entirely dominant at that time. It didn’t matter that the Irish were more white than the English, as this didn’t stop the English from calling them white gorillas and comparing them to other racialized groups of ‘savages’, such as Africans and Native Americans.

To return to Malik’s article on Brussels, he writes that:

The consequence has been the transformation of anti-Western sentiment from a political challenge to imperialist policy to an inchoate rage about modernity. Many strands of contemporary thought, from the deep greens to the radical left, express aspects of such discontent. But it is radical Islam that has come act as the real lightning rod for this fury.

This gives a hint at the historical context of thought being expressed. Nihilism is an accusation that has been directed at the radical left since the late 1700s. Malik makes a direct link here, as he claims that left-wing identity politics and outrage against modernity feed directly into the European Islamic identity.

It is irrelevant to his mind that many of these people are the children and grandchildren of Middle Eastern refugees. It can’t be acknowledged that many don’t have citizenship, living in a permanent stateless condition, not accepted where they live and unable to return to their homeland. Once a person is born into a place, the entire legacy of a family and their homeland becomes meaningless background noise. All of the history of racism, oppression, and violence explain nothing since the moment a new generation is born and learns another language they are instantly assimilated—so Malik assumes.

The demise of traditional opposition movements has led many to look for alternative forms of struggle, and created a yearning for God-given moral lines. […] Shorn of the moral framework that once guided anti-imperialists, shaped by black and white values that in their mind possess divine approval, driven by a sense of rage about non-Muslims and a belief in an existential struggle between Islam and the West, jihadis have come to inhabit a different moral universe, in which they are to commit the most inhuman of acts and view them as righteous.

Wake the fuck up! There was once secular opposition movements in the Middle East. And they were often inspired by a global movement of anti-imperialism and anti-capitalism, independence and liberation, self-government and social democracy. But in the proxy wars of the Cold War, these were destroyed by Western powers. Religious extremists were armed and theocracies were put into power, anything to defeat the threat of traditional left-wing politics. It was successful. And the impact has reverberated over the following generations. Without knowing this history, we flail around in the darkness of our own self-induced ignorance.

I bet most of those terrorists are a lot less historically ignorant than are most comfortable good liberals. I remember the first time I listened to a full video of Osama bin Laden explaining his reasons and motivations. I was blown away. He was extremely informed and rational. He laid it all out in great detail, all the things that Malik conveniently overlooks or dismisses out of hand.

It’s not that Malik’s argument is entirely without merit. I agree with some of the details. But those details can’t be understood without context. A central concern for him is identity politics:

The politics of ideology has, in other words, given way to the politics of identity. Because Islam is a global religion, so Islamists are able to create an identity that is both intensely parochial and seemingly universal, linking Muslims to struggles across the world and providing the illusion of being part of a global movement. Islamism, like all religiously-based ideologies, provides, too, the illusion of divine sanction for jihadists’ acts, however grotesque they may be.

Western ideologies of Christianity and capitalism have led to more oppression and deaths this past century than Islamic terrorists could ever imagine in their darkest fantasies. Neoliberals and neocons have globalist and universalist aspirations that are grander than any religion, even the imperialistic forms of Christianity out of which they formed. Large numbers of Westerners are willing to join the military and sacrifice their lives to attack Middle Eastern countries that never attacked them, never harmed their own families and communities. Now, that is a powerful belief system or simply powerful propaganda.

Plus, consider the situation in the United States. American Muslims on average are wealthier and more well-educated. But unlike in Europe they aren’t ghettoized nor racialized in the same way (we already have our racialized boogeyman with blacks). Maybe it should be unsurprising that per capita American Muslims commit far less mass violence than do native-born American whites. In the US, you’re more likely to be shot by a white terrorist and treated by a Islamic doctor, in terms of percentage of each population.

The same identity politics and decline of traditional politics have happened in the United States. In some ways, the loss of community and culture of trust is far worse here in the States. Yet Islamic integration seems more of a reality than in Europe. American Muslims apparently don’t feel disenfranchised and nihilistic, as Malik assumes they should feel. This undermines his entire argument, indicating other factors are more important.

Obviously, there is nothing inherently violent to either Arab culture or the Islamic religion. The Ottoman Empire was one of the great powers of the world, not particularly different than European empires. If any European empire with large contiguous territory (e.g., Russian Empire) had been defeated and demolished in a similar fashion and then artificially divided up as a colonial prize, we’d probably now have something in Europe akin to the present violence-torn Middle East. There is nothing that makes either region unique, besides the accidents of history. After WWI, the Ottoman Empire could have been left intact or even given assistance in rebuilding. In that case, none of the rest would have followed.

This is the common sense that defies so many Western thinkers today.

Still, I do think Malik has some of the pieces of the puzzle. He isn’t a lazy thinker nor entirely ignorant. Even leaving out the larger context, he is right that outrage against modernity and identity politics plays a role. But then again, none of that is entirely new. These are developments that are at least centuries old.

The present struggle for power among different Islamic groups echoes the past struggle of different Christian groups. Like the Middle East after the Ottoman Empire, Europe was in endless conflict following the fall of the Roman Empire and again with Protestant Reformation. It was a violent splintering along religious, tribal, and ethno-nationalist lines. Also, it was the the burgeoning of modern reactionary politics and militant fundamentalism.

It might be best to understand present fundamentalists as expressions of Corey Robin’s theory of the reactionary mind. Karen Armstrong explains (Violent Islamic radicals know they are heretical) that fundamentalism isn’t orthodoxy:

It is unrealistic to hope that radical Islamists will be chastened by a rebuke from “moderate” imams; they have nothing but contempt for traditional Muslims, who they see as part of the problem. Nor are extremists likely to be dismayed when told that terrorism violates the religion of Islam. We often use the word “fundamentalist” wrongly, as a synonym for “orthodox”. In fact, fundamentalists are unorthodox – even anti-orthodox. They may invoke the past, but these are innovative movements that promote entirely new doctrines.

This relates to Corey Robin making clear that conservatives were challenging the traditional order of the ancien régime. The reactionary, past and present, saw the ruling elite as having failed to defend against challenges from the political right. Their being reactionary, however, doesn’t mean that they are nihilists, at least not in the dismissive and simplistic sense. They are more obsessed with meaning that almost everyone else. And they know that they are outsiders, a social status of which they embrace.

It takes an outsider to see the problems of the system and force something new into being. But don’t be fooled by how the political reactionary embraces left-wing rhetoric and tactics. And, likewise, don’t be confused by how the religious reactionary flouts the rules and norms of orthodoxy. Even in their attack of its weaknesses, they are seeking to strengthen and not destroy the social order. They are forcing a response from the rest of society. And, in the case of the fundamentalist, maybe even trying to force the hand of God.

Some background would be helpful. Like the term ‘liberal’, the term ‘nihilist’ has a history that goes back to the early modern revolutionary era.

The first to label others as nihilists was Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, a Counter-Enlightenment reactionary. His criticism was that of Enlightenment thought and ideals, specifically of the radical Enlightenment. It was the view that rationality unmoored from faith, as speculative reason and radical skepticism, was dangerous and would lead to meaninglessness, moral relativism, materialism, atheism, fatalism, and atomized individuality (see atheism dispute for further info).

Jacobi was charged as being an unsystematic thinker. By stating that others were nihilists, it was his way of defending himself—in that, to his view, at least he believed in something. Belief was everything to him and so its opposite was nothingness, i.e., nihilism.

From the beginning, nihilism was directly implicated in political issues. Later on, it took on overt political form as a nihilist movement in Russia. It followed the mid-19th century freeing of Russian serfs. It led to revolutionary stirrings, not unlike what happened with how the land enclosure movement in England ‘freed’ the serfs from the land they lived and depended upon. The creation of a massive number of landless peasants, homeless and starving, tends to lead to problems.

The nihilists said fuck that shit! They didn’t know what kind of society was possible, but they were clear that the one then existing was horrifically oppressive and needed to go. The cup has to be emptied in order to be filled again. Heck, maybe just smash the cup and start entirely from scratch. They were skeptics of the highest order, especially toward the good intentions of the older generation of bourgeois liberals who were invested in the system. Nihilists were anti-authoritarians and so, at times, they were terrorists toward the ruling authorities.

It was Ivan Turgenev who popularized the term. Here is a passage from one of his novels, Fathers and Sons, where the anarchist and anti-authoritarian strain of nihilism is shown:

‘A nihilist,’ said Nikolai Petrovitch. ‘That’s from the Latin, nihil, nothing, as far as I can judge; the word must mean a man who … who accepts nothing?’
‘Say, “who respects nothing,”‘ put in Pavel Petrovitch, and he set to work on the butter again.
‘Who regards everything from the critical point of view,’ observed Arkady.
‘Isn’t that just the same thing?’ inquired Pavel Petrovitch.
‘No, it’s not the same thing. A nihilist is a man who does not bow down before any authority, who does not take any principle on faith, whatever reverence that principle may be enshrined in.’

Nihilists were and were not political, depending on what you mean by that. What they weren’t offering was a dogmatic ideology and a predetermined plan. They had no interests in replacing one set of unfounded beliefs with yet another. They didn’t know what was possible, but they thought it was worth finding out. Anyone who got in the way of their finding out simply had to be made to get out of the way, sometimes by whatever means necessary. They weren’t idle dreamers.

Nihilists were most closely aligned with anarchists. Toward the end of the 19th century, anarchists also became known for their terrorism, specifically of the bomb-throwing variety. Both of these were part of early anti-imperialist politics, which went hand in hand with anti-capitalist and anti-corporatist politics. Anarchists joined communists in the fight against fascism. Yet the old reactionary accusation of meaninglessness remained. Radical politics seemed merely destructive and some thought it wasn’t politics at all.

Malik fits right into this milieu. He is dredging up old ideological feuds, maybe even without knowing much about them. When one uses such words as nihilism, one ends up bringing forth more than maybe was intended. To label as nihilists those committing terrorism today is to strike a deep chord of history.

The same goes for when this gets combined with even more inflammatory words, such as savage and savagery. Like calling someone a nihilist, calling someone a savage had great potency in past times, particularly for liberals of the 19th century. It was on this basis that liberals inherited the reactionary tradition of the Counter-Enlightenment in defending Enlightenment values. In doing so, classic liberals could present themselves as the moderates in an age of social unrest and uncertainty.

This resonates with how Westerners still perceive Muslims. They are an Other, not quite fully entered into modernity and so not fully civilized. Malik is careful to not be so blatant as to call them savages, but the word gets applied indirectly. In relation to nihilism, this isn’t merely about what is outside the founds of Enlightenment rationality and liberal meaning. There is the edge of the apocalyptic to terrorism, even moreso when suicidal and not limited to simplistic ideologies.

The same could have been said of the Plains Indians who were revolting and terrorizing at the same time nihilists and anarchists were doing their thing. And indeed an apocalyptic mentality had come to dominate the society of the Plains Indians. The reason for this is that these tribes formed from the refugees of other tribes that had been decimated by genocide, war, disease, and starvation.

Like many Middle Easterners today, many Native Americans back then saw their entire world destroyed. They were apocalyptic because they had experienced apocalypse or were the children and grandchildren of those who had experienced it. These were people who felt they had little to lose. They were only nihilistic in the sense that the stable social order that had given their lives meaning was no longer functioning. Their future was bleak. Their ‘savagery’ was that of desperation and hopelessness.

To white settlers, these native freedom fighters were terrorists. The politics and religion of these oppressed people would have been simply incomprehensible. It probably seemed like meaningless violence, terrorism for the sake of terror alone. It is unlikely that most attacking Indians explained their motives to white society. Whites were left to try to make sense of it in what was happening elsewhere, from free soil militants in Bleeding Kansas to fiery abolitionists leading rebellions. As with Malik, it would have been easy to connect the violence of natives with the radicalism of left-wingers, and then to dismiss it all as nihilism.

All of these expressions of terrorism are the continuing repercussions and legacies of a long history of imperialism and colonialism. Without understanding this, Malik at times goes down pathetically simpleminded lines of thought, as was the case in a 2002 article (All cultures are not equal):

So the real question to ask in the wake of September 11 is not, as many have suggested, ‘Why do they hate us?’, but rather ‘Why do we seem to hate ourselves?’. Why is it that Western liberals and radicals have become so disenchanted with modern civilisation that some even welcomed the attack on the Twin Towers as an anti-imperialist act?

No one who has ever looked very deeply into the issues could ask these questions. Very few Westerners actually hate themselves. When I’m critical of my own government, it isn’t because I hate myself. I don’t hate my country and those who share this society with me. I hate that my government does horrific thing in my name and using my tax money. I hate that we don’t live up to our own values and ideals. Pointing out that the 9/11 terrorism was blow back from military adventurism.

I don’t think Malik is stupid enough to fully believe what he says. It’s a straw man argument—set it up and knock it down. He is using rhetoric to dismiss his opponents, rather than dealing with the actual issues at hand. I’d be more forgiving of his viewpoint, if he didn’t constantly fall back on this kind of intellectual dishonesty.

He is trying to promote a particular ideological worldview. From his perspective, the problem isn’t that Westerners—specifically among the upper classes in dominant empires/societies—view others as savages. It is only problematic when the wrong group gets labeled as such.

His is a liberalism that seeks to define and defend the boundaries of the liberal moral and social order, outside of which no meaning exists and so no respectable debate can occur. Since the Enlightenment, all of Western civilization is framed by liberalism, even conservatism. It is the basis of meaning for our society, and so much is at stake. To question and doubt this liberal order is to bring on an existential crisis for those invested in it. There is no one more invested in it than the good liberal who has taken it to heart. That appears to be where Malik is coming from when he uses ‘nihilist’ as a slur against the enemies of Western modernity, real and perceived.

This is about controlling the political frame and narrative, and hence to control public debate. This is explained by Roy Ben-Shai and Nitzan Lebovic in the book they co-authored, The Politics of Nihilism: From the Nineteenth Century to Contemporary Israel (Kindle Locations 156-160):

Nihilism comes from the Latin word nihil, meaning “nothing” or “nothing at all.” The argument presented in this volume is that nihilism (literally, “nothingism”) could function as a mirror image or a limit case to all forms of “legitimate” critique in the public sphere. Nihilism marks the point where critique becomes unacceptable, threatening, or simply “illegitimate.” This intrinsic attribute of nihilism was expressed even by the earliest usage of the term and that expression continues to this day.

There is one thing that jumped out at me. Malik’s argument borrows much rhetoric from the political right: moral relativism, Western self-hatred, etc. The nihilist allegation itself began as an attack on Enlightenment liberalism, oddly enough considering Malik’s own liberal position on Enlightenment values.

Interestingly, according to Corey Robin, it is the reactionary who borrows from the political left. I’ve considered the possibility that a conservative ultimately is a liberal turned reactionary. But what does it mean when a liberal turns reactionary by borrowing from the political right?

With this on my mind, I’m reminded of the connection of reactionary rhetoric to symbolic conflation. To explain symbolic conflation, the clearest example I’ve found is abortion. It is a visceral issue and emotionally potent, touching upon issues of life and death. For similar reasons, terrorism also is ripe for symbolic conflation.

If this is involved, then the explicit argument being made is hiding the real issue. And the issue hidden always involves social control. This fits perfectly Malik’s obsession with the civilized and the savage.

It also makes sense why he leaves so much unstated, for the power of symbolic conflation is how it obscures the source of its own moral imagination. It always points elsewhere and makes analysis near impossible. Complexities are condensed down to pithy talking points that are easily and mindlessly repeated. As such, savage nihilism isn’t meant to explain anything, even as it is meant to give the appearance of explanation. A symbolic conflation is a meme that lodges in the brain, seizing up all thought into a constrained focus.

The savages are attacking. We better circle the wagons. For those on the political right, this means how do we literally encircle our societies by controlling our borders and those who cross them. But for the good liberal, it’s less crude. Malik acknowledges that the savages are already among us. So, the good liberal advises that we must circle the wagons in our minds.


Climate Change, Refugees, and Terrorism

Climate change is already here.

We are past the point of preventing it, decreasing it, or even managing it well. There is nothing we are going to do about it at this point. What we will do is react to it, as it happens, crisis by crisis.

Politics are irrelevant. But no doubt there will be many speeches and much posturing, on all sides.

* * *

Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization
By Roy Scranton
Kindle Locations 860-888

“Consider: Once among the most modern, Westernized nations in the Middle East, with a robust, highly educated middle class, Iraq has been blighted for decades by imperialist aggression, criminal gangs, interference in its domestic politics, economic liberalization, and sectarian feuding. Today it is being torn apart between a corrupt petrocracy, a breakaway Kurdish enclave, and a self-declared Islamic fundamentalist caliphate, while a civil war in neighboring Syria spills across its borders. These conflicts have likely been caused in part and exacerbated by the worst drought the Middle East has seen in modern history. Since 2006, Syria has been suffering crippling water shortages that have, in some areas, caused 75 percent crop failure and wiped out 85 percent of livestock, left more than 800,000 Syrians without a livelihood, and sent hundreds of thousands of impoverished young men streaming into Syria’s cities. 90 This drought is part of long-term warming and drying trends that are transforming the Middle East. 91 Not just water but oil, too, is elemental to these conflicts. Iraq sits on the fifth-largest proven oil reserves in the world. Meanwhile, the Islamic State has been able to survive only because it has taken control of most of Syria’s oil and gas production. We tend to think of climate change and violent religious fundamentalism as isolated phenomena, but as Retired Navy Rear Admiral David Titley argues, “you can draw a very credible climate connection to this disaster we call ISIS right now.” 92

“A few hundred miles away, Israeli soldiers spent the summer of 2014 killing Palestinians in Gaza. Israel has also been suffering drought, while Gaza has been in the midst of a critical water crisis exacerbated by Israel’s military aggression. The International Committee for the Red Cross reported that during summer 2014, Israeli bombers targeted Palestinian wells and water infrastructure. 93 It’s not water and oil this time, but water and gas: some observers argue that Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” was intended to establish firmer control over the massive Leviathan natural gas field, discovered off the coast of Gaza in the eastern Mediterranean in 2010.94

“Meanwhile, thousands of miles to the north, Russian-backed separatists fought fascist paramilitary forces defending the elected government of Ukraine, which was also suffering drought. 95 Russia’s role as an oil and gas exporter in the region and the natural gas pipelines running through Ukraine from Russia to Europe cannot but be key issues in the conflict. Elsewhere, droughts in 2014 sent refugees from Guatemala and Honduras north to the US border, devastated crops in California and Australia, and threatened millions of lives in Eritrea, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda, Afghanistan, India, Morocco, Pakistan, and parts of China. Across the world, massive protests and riots have swept Bosnia and Herzegovina, Venezuela, Brazil, Turkey, Egypt, and Thailand, while conflicts rage on in Colombia, Libya, the Central African Republic, Sudan, Nigeria, Yemen, and India. And while the world burns, the United States has been playing chicken with Russia over control of Eastern Europe and the melting Arctic, and with China over control of Southeast Asia and the South China Sea, threatening global war on a scale not seen in seventy years. This is our present and future: droughts and hurricanes, refugees and border guards, war for oil, water, gas, and food.”

90. Francesco Femia and Caitlin Werrell, “Syria: Climate Change, Drought and Social Unrest,” The Center for Climate and Security, February 29, 2012. http://climateandsecurity.org/2012/02/29/syria-climate-change-drought-and-social-unrest/.
91. Colin P. Kelley, Shahrzad Mohtadi, Mark A. Cane, Richard Seager, and Yochanan Kushnir, “Climate change in the Fertile Crescent and implications of the recent Syrian drought,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, January 30, 2015. Early edition. http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2015/02/23/1421533112.
92. Quoted in Eric Holthaus, “New Study Says Climate Change Helped Spark Syrian Civil War,” Slate.com, March 3, 2015. http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2015/03/02/study_climate_change_helped_spark_syrian_civil_war.html.
93. International Committee for the Red Cross, “Gaza: Water in the line of fire,” news release, July 15, 2014. http://www.icrc.org/eng/resources/documents/news-release/2014/14-07-israel-palestine-gaza-water.htm. Ahmed Hadi, “Health crisis looms in Gaza after Israel bombs water infrastructure,” Al-Akhbar English, July 17, 2014. http://english.al-akhbar.com/content/health-crisis-looms-gaza-after-israel-bombs-water-infrastructure
94. Nafeez Ahmed, “IDF’s Gaza assault is to control Palestinian gas, avert Israeli energy crisis,” The Guardian, July 9, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/Earth-insight/2014/jul/09/israel-war-gaza-palestine-natural-gas-energy-crisis. Julie Lévesque, “Israel Steals Gaza’s Offshore Natural Gas: $ 15 Billion Deal with Jordan,” Global Research, September 06, 2014. http://www.globalresearch.ca/israel-steals-gazas-offshore-natural-gas-15-billion-deal-with-jordan/5399736.
95. Jeff Wilson, “Ukraine’s Wheat, Corn Face Mounting Drought Risk, Martell Says,” Bloomberg.com, March 5, 2014. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-03-05/ukraine-s-wheat-corn-face-mounting-drought-risk-martell-says.html.

* * *

What Will Become of the Climate-Change Refugees?
By Julian Spector

Climate change already affecting migration patterns around the world
By Renee Lewis

Climate change could already be displacing more people than war
By Jason Margolis

How Climate Change is Behind the Surge of Migrants to Europe
By Aryn Baker

Bill Nye Explains the Link Between Climate Change and Terrorism
By Matt Miller

Why Climate Change and Terrorism Are Connected
By Justin Worland

By Jack Martinez

New Study Says Climate Change Helped Spark Syrian Civil War
By Eric Holthaus

The Connection Between Global Terrorism And Climate Change
By Kimberley Johnson

The Link Between Climate Change And ISIS Is Real
By Joe Romm

Worried About Refugees? Just Wait Until We Dust-Bowlify Mexico And Central America
By Joe Romm

Heat Waves And Drought Are Already Having A Devastating Impact On Important Crops
By Natasha Geiling

Who Is To Blame?

Identity politics too often distracts from the real issues and can even make problems worse. My focus is as much on the victimization cycle as on the victims and victimizers. The victimization cycle puts into context and so offers a larger vantage point.

All of us humans all over are caught up in a globally-connected system of victimization. That isn’t to say all suffer equally, but it is to say we all are equally fucked in the long term on a shared planet with limited resources. What goes around comes around.

I’ve been arguing with one racist guy who keeps saying that American blacks are more violent. I can argue with that on one level by pointing out that whites are more likely to be child molesters, school shooters, bombers, serial killers, etc. But that misses a bigger issue. Why is the entire American society violent? Why is the world in general such a violent place? Why are the wealthiest countries so war-mongering? Why are so many of the post-colonial countries troubled by near endless internal conflict?

Limiting our view to the US, blacks do commit high rates of homicides, although most of their victims are also blacks. It is violence within a community. But how did so many poor black communities become so violent? Before someone committed murder, they were a kid being raised in a particular environment in a particular society. Some thing shaped them.

We know what some of those factors are. We also know that most victimizers were once victims themselves. If we looked at most people arrested for violent crime, we’d probably most often find a personal history of violent victimization: friends, neighbors, and family members murdered; police targeting and brutality; systemic and institutional racism; oppressive poverty and economic hopelessness; et cetera.

We can extend this argument to Native Americans. Native American communities also have high rates of violent crime that goes hand in hand with being the victims of large-scale violence across recent centuries.

As far as that goes, this argument also applies to poor white communities such as in the rural South, specifically Appalachia. They also have high rates of violent crime. All poor communities in this country have high rates of social problems, especially in places of high economic inequality.

Most Americans forget that the raw numbers of poor whites is massive. There are more whites on welfare than any other race. Some of these populations have been in a permanent state of poverty for centuries or longer, going back to the British Isles and Europe.

Race becomes a proxy for class. We talk about the problems of poor blacks when we really mean the problems of poor people, the problems of poverty and economic inequality, which goes hand in hand with historically oppressed groups, even though oppressed in vastly different ways.

Here is my main point:

Every victim has a victimizer. And likely most victimizers were once victims. You can keep going back and back. Where you stop as the original source of victimization can be arbitrary or else ideologically biased.

To focus on those in power: Who is to blame for the world’s present system of imperialism? The first empires who invented this social order? The later empires that introduced it to new populations such as into tribal Europe? The even later empires that turned it into colonialism? Can anyone today take responsibility for the past, whether imperialism forced onto Native Americans or imperialism forced onto earlier Europeans?

Instead of blame, who will take responsibility? What does it even mean to take responsibility for problems so far beyond any individual, for cycles of victimization that extend across centuries and millennia?

Us versus them mentalities are how authoritarian social orders maintain their power. Even many people who fight imperialism and oppression end up internalizing the dysfunction. This is why so many revolutions fail and end up with authoritarian states, sometimes worse than what came before.

All I know is that the world is a lot more complex and a lot more fucked up than most people want to admit. The world is complex. Humans are complex. It is impossible to put people into neat little boxes. We all have immense potential, for both good and evil. That is what many people are afraid to confront, the immense potential that lurks within.

Authoritarians couldn’t get away with most of what they do if not for all those complicit, including among the victimized groups. Take for example the history of blacks. The slave trade was dependent on Africans selling other Africans into slavery, not unusually people selling their neighbors or even family members in hope of saving themselves. Later on, many blacks who, after being freed following the Civil War, became Indian fighters and in doing so violently and genocidally promoted US imperial expansion across the continent.

Both poor whites and poor blacks have been willing participants in American power. These disadvantaged people have always been the majority of the soldiers who fight the wars for the rich and powerful. That is the power of nationalism, of patriotism and propaganda. Even the rich end up buying the rhetoric they use to manipulate others for their minds get warped by the same basic media that warps the minds of all of us. We are all stuck in the same reality tunnel, unable to see beyond it.

If not blame, how is responsibility to be taken? Who will take the first step?

Real Threats

“If you added up all the women who have been murdered by their husbands or boyfriends since 9/11, and then you add up all the Americans who were killed by 9/11 or in Afghanistan and Iraq, more women were killed by their husbands or boyfriends.”
~Gloria Steinem, as quoted by Corey Robin in Violence Against Women and the Politics of Fear

“Americans are a whopping 29 times more likely to die at the hands of a police officer than they are of a terrorist attack. It’s impossible to say for certain how many people are killed by cops each year, but the best estimate is anywhere from 600-1,000. Contrast that with the 30 police officers who were killed in 2013.”
~Caleb G., Why American Police Departments Are More Of A Threat Than ISIS

People are notoriously bad about assessing personal risk.

I’m an American. Like most Americans, I’ve spent my whole life in this country and don’t travel outside the country. The genuine threats that should concern me are in America. I’m more likely to be killed by my own government than by a foreign government. I’m more likely to be killed by a Christian than by a Muslim.

Also, I’m “white”. Like most whites, I live in a white neighborhood in a white community. I don’t spend much time with non-whites. As the data shows, whites such as myself are more likely to experience crimes and violence from other whites. Blacks have more to fear from whites in this country than vice versa, since most of the police, judges, etc are white.

Being a white American, I’m way safer than the vast majority of people in the world. I have little to realistically worry about. I have no reason to fear terrorism, ebola, or much else.

I have more reason to fear being run over by a car or having a heart attack. Why doesn’t the news obsess over the things that actually will kill me?

McDonald’s unhealthy food is one of the greatest threats to my life in the immediate vicinity. Why doesn’t the government spend millions of dollars to fight that menace?

My rights are more likely to be taken away by the ruling elite of my own country. Why don’t we Americans fight that enemy?

Cryptonomicon: Democracy & Moderation, Conflict & Violence

I’m not going to do a full review, much less a fair and neutral analysis, of Cryptonomicon. The book is large with multiple storylines, one of which involves World War II. The passage that caught my attention, however, comes from the storyline set in the late 1990s when the book was written. Before I get to that passage, let me make note of the worldview of the novel and of the author’s other novels.

I’m going to take a partly critical view on Neal Stephenson’s work or at least aspects therein, but I’m not trying to dismiss his work. I enjoyed Snow Crash, in particular. It felt like a very plausible future in many ways. Stephenson can be a fun writer to read. He is imaginative. So, my purpose here isn’t to do a review of Cryptonomicon or literary criticism of his ouevre. I simply want to use his writing as a way of offering cultural criticism since Stephenson very much seems like a product of our culture. So, I will be narrowly focused in this sense.

I haven’t read all of Stephenson’s books (nor do I want to try). From what others have written, it seems that all of his fiction involves conflict and typically fighting, often outright war. As Al Dimond explains:

Conflict is a theme that runs through every Stephenson novel that I’ve read. That’s a pretty vague theme, you might say. Well, how about this: they’ve all ended in the middle of violent struggle. The corporate wars and virtual swordfights of Snow Crash, global factional fighting in The Diamond Age, small-scale jungle combat in CryptonomiconCryptonomicon‘s story of World War II, its central thesis made explicit in Enoch Root and Randy’s conversations in jail, is the clearest statement that Stephenson basically believes in conflict. He believes that the right side (the progressive side) will eventually win if there is conflict. That without conflict societies lose their sense of what they believe in the first place and can’t progress. Whether or not you believe that what I’m calling progress here is good, this is something that rings true to me: in a world of competitive civilizations, the progressive ones wipe out the others. We always worry that they (we) may wipe out themselves, too, just for the sake of completeness (ha, not really, actually just because we know no other way, or because there’s still enough inequity and thus conflict to keep us fighting and thus progressing). This is a subject that I’ve got to do some reading on, because I’m sure Great Books have been written on the subject.

One could easily conclude that Neal Stephenson, going by his fiction, seems to have little faith in the ideal of social democracy working out its problems without recourse to violence and revolution. There seems to be no overarching socio-political worldview that can encompass the diverse opinions and viewpoints of his characters. Some group apparently has to win and everyone else lose… or else there will be endless fighting and competition between forces. One might say that it is a bit of a Social Darwinian vision. Unsurprisingly, there is a libertarian bent to many of the narratives and characters.

The following is by David Axel Kurtz. This is from the beginning of his post which is a celebration and apologia of this worldview:

In Neal Stephenson’s novel Cryptonomicon, there is nothing more derided than irony. It is seen as the enemy of the artist, an obstacle to creativity, and the antithesis of true production.

If there is a protagonist to Crypto it is Randall Lawrence Waterhouse. He is comparable in many ways to the author of the story. They both came from the American heartland. They both ended up in the Pacific Northwest. They both came of age at the time of the computer’s introduction. They are both highly educated. They are both “white male technocrats.” They are both nerds.

The nerd as hero. I have nothing against that in principle. It is better than Rambo, but Cryptonomicon has both types: the nerd-hero and the soldier-hero. The greatest enemy of all is not taking one’s mission deadly seriously (i.e., irony is bad). No matter which type of hero you are in this world, you have to fight for what you believe in. There is no pacifist-hero of slow, gradual democratic change… for I guess that would make a boring story (and some would say make for a boring ideology)… very few stories, ideologies or products are sold without some drama involved, even if the only drama is the conflict of not having the beautiful woman in the advertisement.

Kurtz identifies the character Randy (Randall) with the author Stephenson. That is something I wondered when I came across the passage where Randy takes on the smug humanities professor G. E. B. Kivistik, a truly pathetic caricature in the tradition of right-wing fear-mongering about the academic liberal elite. What I wanted to know is: Why was the author setting up a straw man for his antagonist to knock down, unless that caricature is genuinely how the author perceives such people? The scenario was a libertarian wet dream. This immediately put my defenses up and made me start to pay closer attention to the story. I’m still not entirely sure where the author comes down on this.

Randy sees himself as self-accomplished and hardworking. He doesn’t see the privilege he has had a white guy born and raised in America. Nor do those inspired by this passage see this. It has become a manifesto of white male victimhood.

Dominic Fox explains this worldview in terms of a “tribal sociology”:

The point to understand here is that Randy is right for a small, local value of “this society”: if you are in a position to participate in the social customs and network of the Dwarves, the path to advancement is indeed to “work hard, educate yourself, and keep your wits about you”. If you are amongst Hobbits, you need to practice quite different virtues. Tribes such as these act as force-multipliers for personal effort (working one’s ass off, something Kivistik has also presumably done in his own way), provided it is directed towards goals that the tribe esteems and is in a position to reward. What is “entrenched” is of course not Randy’s personal position within the tribe to which he is affiliated, but the position of the tribe itself, with its considerable resources of knowledge and power.

The ideological move common to Cryptonomicon and The Diamond Age is to displace class analysis (which would have something to say about hierarchy and exploitation, as fundamental operators of the division of the social world) into a “pagan” compartmentalisation of the world into competing tribes, a flat ecology of value-systems whose historical development is governed by something like an evolutionary fitness landscape. This is apparent from Cryptonomicon’s opening metaphor of the “first self-replicating gizmo” as a “stupendous badass”, and progenitor of a tremendous and varied proliferation of badassery throughout the natural and, by metaphorical extension, social world. This compartmentalisation enables Stephenson to range across wildly varied social and moral environments, and gives the Baroque Cycle its bewildering sweep and scope as well as its synoptic power. But it leaves Randy Waterhouse essentially mystified as to the nature of the opportunities available to him, and unable to grasp the Hobbits’ point, rendered as it is in language that seems offensively fatuous and vapid to him, about “false consciousness”.

An even more scathing criticism came from an unknown author of an essay, Retronomicon:

[W]hat’s most striking given recent political events, Cryptonomicon reads now like a lengthy, pulped-up pamphlet from Ron Paul. In its fascination with electronic cash and the gold standard, the book was dated even at the time of writing (remember, Paypal made its debut only a few months after publication, and the bubble burst in Silicon Valley a year later). Like seemingly all libertarian fantasies, there’s a lot of water, boats, and islands involved. Reading it critically, one is struck by the attempt to normalize some pretty wild ideologies, like tying Holocaust prevention to the possession of homemade automatic firearms. Pull back from the engaging spy-counterspy plot for even a second, and the whole thing starts to unravel, particularly since the dot-com bust has put a lot of its present-day speculation to death. Indeed, the WWII sections are still the strongest in the book, if only because they focus on a character who is not A) a self-indulgent technocrat or B) a particularly deep thinker.

But what I remember bothering me even as I read Cryptonomicon for the first time in college, is the dinner-party flashback in which he viciously burns a strawman of liberal arts and academia. In a novel that often goes out of its way to champion nerdiness (particularly the unexplainable romantic plotline, in which the tough-but-beautiful girl seems to fall for the protagonist through a courtship that bears no resemblance to human behavior), the dinner party stands out as a towering triumph of misplaced Mary Sue dialog.

This critic is speaking of that same passage. Further on, s/he gets into the meat of the issue:

Let’s set aside the poor-little-white-male victimhood schtick for a second, since it’s patently transparent. Look at Kivistik’s original question, the one Randy derides so readily: How many onramps will connect the world’s ghettos to the Information Superhighway? If you strip away the metaphor, all he’s asking is “who’s going to make sure the poor can also access the advantages that the Internet brings?” This isn’t some far-fetched academic pretense: it’s a classic question of the Digital Divide. Perhaps a superhighway is indeed a bad metaphor for this, although I think it actually works rather well. But to argue about the highway, instead of connectivity for the poor, is to miss Kivistik’s point entirely.

And in a book written by an honest author, instead of one using his protagonist as a mouthpiece for radical cyber-selfishness, a professor from Yale would point that out. But Cryptonomicon is not that book, sadly. That the author is capable of writing these sentences himself, and then misinterpreting his own words, is a sign of a shocking lack of empathy with his characters. And yet, I get no sense that he’s writing from the perspective of an unreliable narrator, since the same tone of self-congratulatory geekishness pervades the entire story.

This gives voice to my intuitive response when I initially read the passage in question. It seems the author expects us to take fully seriously this portrayal of academia and its takedown by the idealized nerd-hero outsider. Nonetheless, I wanted to give the author the benefit of the doubt.

In the passage, Randy defends himself against the accusation of being a technocrat… worse still, a privileged technocrat. I haven’t done a thorough search about the author’s views on such things, but I did come across an interview where he discusses a technocratic society:

The success of the U.S. has not come from one consistent cause, as far as I can make out. Instead the U.S. will find a way to succeed for a few decades based on one thing, then, when that peters out, move on to another. Sometimes there is trouble during the transitions.

[ . . . ] for the era from, say, 1940 to 2000 it was the engineer, the geek, the scientist. It’s no coincidence that this era is also when science fiction has flourished, and in which the whole idea of the Future became current. After all, if you’re living in a technocratic society, it seems perfectly reasonable to try to predict the future by extrapolating trends in science and engineering.

It is quite obvious to me that the U.S. is turning away from all of this. It has been the case for quite a while that the cultural left distrusted geeks and their works; the depiction of technical sorts in popular culture has been overwhelmingly negative for at least a generation now. More recently, the cultural right has apparently decided that it doesn’t care for some of what scientists have to say. So the technical class is caught in a pincer between these two wings of the so-called culture war. Of course the broad mass of people don’t belong to one wing or the other. But science is all about diligence, hard sustained work over long stretches of time, sweating the details, and abstract thinking, none of which is really being fostered by mainstream culture.

Since our prosperity and our military security for the last three or four generations have been rooted in science and technology, it would therefore seem that we’re coming to the end of one era and about to move into another. Whether it’s going to be better or worse is difficult for me to say. The obvious guess would be “worse.” If I really wanted to turn this into a jeremiad, I could hold forth on that for a while. But as mentioned before, this country has always found a new way to move forward and be prosperous. So maybe we’ll get lucky again. In the meantime, efforts to predict the future by extrapolating trends in the world of science and technology are apt to feel a lot less compelling than they might have in 1955.

That seems to offer a clue.

In Cryptonomicon, Randy denies being a technocrat, denies even knowing what that means. The author in this interview, on the other hand, offers a loving portrayal of the technocratic society he was born into. Growing up, Stephenson saw strife and bickering take over our country. Little of the optimism that brought us to the moon was left by the time he was an adult.

Stephenson states that, “It has been the case for quite a while that the cultural left distrusted geeks and their works”. That is pretty much the opinion of Randy and how he sees the humanities professor. Following this statement, Stephenson also makes a similar statement about the “cultural right”. He is speaking of the culture wars and so the “cultural right” he speaks of is the religious right. However, he separates out the technical class out of this culture war. That is precisely the view of Randy as he sees himself as the outsider. This so-called “technical class” is stereotypically known for its libertarianism and I doubt Stephenson is unaware of this when he makes such statements. He is speaking about a specific group with a specific ideological tendency.

Stephenson seems to have sympathies for the libertarian-minded, but at the same time he sees a broader view:

Speaking as an observer who has many friends with libertarian instincts, I would point out that terrorism is a much more formidable opponent of political liberty than government. Government acts almost as a recruiting station for libertarians. Anyone who pays taxes or has to fill out government paperwork develops libertarian impulses almost as a knee-jerk reaction. But terrorism acts as a recruiting station for statists. So it looks to me as though we are headed for a triangular system in which libertarians and statists and terrorists interact with each other in a way that I’m afraid might turn out to be quite stable.

As he further explains, “Myth of Redemptive Violence, which he sees as a meme by which domination systems are perpetuated. But he is clearly all in favor of people standing up against oppressive power systems of all stripes.” Despite all the conflict and violence in his fiction, he apparently hasn’t embraced this as normative. Still, the fictional worldview being presented is certainly not one of moderation or even any obvious hope for moderation. Stephenson’s stories offer some particular conflict resolved or semi-resolved in a world of conflict, maybe never to be resolved.

Like me, Neal Stephenson was a child of the Cold War. He is of a slightly older generation, a young Boomer. So, he is even more of the Cold War era than I am. That “triangular system” of stability is very much a product of the twentieth century, but when Stephenson spoke in that interview it was several years after the 9/11 terrorist attack and in an entirely new decade following Cryptonomicon. In this new century, conflict and violence has become a lot more personal to Americans. It isn’t about oppressive foreign countries or dystopic futures. We have come to a point where statism, terrorism and libertarianism are being brought to their extremes.

Stephenson explores the world where great heroes go on quests and great men fight for what they seek. Most of us on this teeming planet aren’t great heroes or great men. We are just people trying to get by and hoping for a better world for the next generation. What is everyone else supposed to do while all the great things are happening? Is there any room for democracy to emerge, for grassroots change that doesn’t require conflict and violence?

Osama Wins! Americans Lose!

We played by Osama bin Laden’s rules. Even in killing Osama, we lose. Osama knew that, but Americans were stupid enough to play right into Osama’s agenda. We Americans (as a country and as citizens) have lost money, lives and our moral highground. Like Osama planned, we are going the way of the USSR.

The more I think about this, I don’t think it was an accident. I know the average American isn’t as well informed and thoughtful as they should be. But I was wondering how the political elite were also so clueless as to not understand Osama’s agenda when he spelled it out very clearly and in great detail.

I just now realized that the political ruling elite (i.e., corporatists, plutocrats, and the military-industrial complex) share the same basic agenda with Osama bin Laden. They both don’t like nor trust the populist ethos of American democracy. The reason is because only a functioning democracy (that actually represents the public and where the population isn’t disenfranchised) can challenge the authoritarian power structures represented by corporatism and by fundamentalism.

Because of corporate media, most Americans don’t comprehend that the corporatists are at least as dangerous if not more than the terrorists. Now that Osama is gone, will Americans see the enemy in their midst?

Muslim vs Rightwing Violence

I was having a discussion on YouTube and terrorism came up.

Here are a couple comments from happykillmore88:

Wow that video and report are comical and sad. 45 muslem as opposed to 80 non muslem domestic terrorist activities. You have an instance ~30% of all domestic terrorist attacks being committed by one particular unified demographic of people and its doesn’t warrant interest because its not ‘pc.’ And you are seriously reporting to me as contrary to my view? If you want an educated opinion on muslims in America consult colonel allen west.


right wing hate groups are a stratified remnant of a bygone era, and do not represent people like myself. Muslim terrorist activities are representative of the fact that it is statistically easier for a muslim to ‘misconstrue’ the words of the Quran. This is occurring at a per capita rate several times higher than in the EVIL RIGHT WING RACIST BIGOT PARTY and its growing because in America free speech is only ok if its pc anymore. Also when you label me a bigot I win.

The comment was in response to this video I shared with this person:

It’s the general ignorance of this person (happykillmore88) that bothers me so much. But, in his mind, if I point out the fact that he is an ignorant bigot, then he wins. Huh? Ignorance is bad and bigotry is bad, but there is something immensely worse when the two are combined.

I’ve noticed how rightwingers (and the media as well) tend to treat all Muslims as a single group. Any Muslim violence is the responsibility of the entire world’s Muslim community. If someone commits an act of violence an they are Muslim, it must be because they have a Muslim agenda and that somehow that Muslim agenda is inherent to all or most of Islam. Christians, on the other hand, commit acts of violence all the time and rarely does it get blamed on the entire Christian community or the entire Christian religion. Often it doesn’t get blamed on Christianity at all. Every Christian is unique and yet every Muslim is the same.

In reality, there is no singular Islam that unites Muslims all over the world. When a terrorist who is Muslim commits an act of violence, their reasons are diverse: personal revenge for loss of family or friends, perceived defense of their particular ethnic community or nation, to uphold the ideology of the sect they belong to, etc. Not all Muslims agree about anything, especially not about their ideological views of Islam. The Muslim in Afghanistan fighting US soldiers to defend his country and family isn’t the same as the 9/11 terrorists. Neither of those is the same as the oppressive Saudi royal family that is the ally of the US govt. And none of those are the same as the average upper class Muslim who has peacefully lived their entire life in the US. There is no Islam that is a “one particular unified demographic of people”. As such, there is no singular Muslim terrorism, just diverse acts committed by diverse people for diverse reasons. To think otherwise is the worst kind of bigoted ignorance.

Let me use an example on the non-Muslim rightwing side. Jim D. Adkisson who shot several people (and would’ve have shot everyone if he hadn’t been stopped) at a Tennessee UU church was a rightwinger. He shot the UU people simply because he hated liberals and gays (the exact same things Muslim rightwingers hate). That shooting incident only received brief media attention and most people probably don’t even remember it. If he had been a Muslim shooting those people because they were Christians or Americans, the media (especially and ironically, the rightwing media) would have obsessed over it for months and no one would ever forget about it. It’s a double standard even seen in the so-called ‘liberal’ media.

Consider Scott Roeder as another example. He was a Christian who killed Dr. Tiller for ideological reasons of stopping abortion. After the event, all over the web and in the media there were rightwing Christians who praised Roeder’s actions or who made excuses for it. I was shocked by how supportive so many on the right were of terrorism when it fits their own agenda.

Similarly, consider the recent hearing on Muslim radicalism and terrorism. It was started by Peter King who in the past has supported and helped raise money for the IRA which is a Christian terrorist group. The IRA killed many innocent civilians in shootings and bombings. The innocents killed included British who are our political allies and also an American. King has never renounced his ties to the IRA nor criticized the IRA’s terrorist acts. Also, to get back to an earlier point, no one in the US media has portrayed the IRA as representative of all Christianity.

The Muslim hearing demonstrates a problem within the media. The American Muslim community has helped stop many of the terrorist plans. The American Muslim leaders have numerously criticized terrorism. But the media ignores all this. Then those in the media wonder why we don’t hear about Muslims speaking out. Well, we don’t hear it because the media (including the ‘liberal’ media) rarely reports it and when reported it ain’t front page news. The best example of this involves the planned Islamic center some distance away from Ground Zero. The guy who has been promoting it is Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. He had been officially working with the government to help build bridges to the Islamic communities in the US and in other countries. He was doing exactly what rightwingers claim Muslim Americans aren’t doing. Even so, both rightwing and liberal media almost entirely ignored Imam Rauf’s activities until the plan of the Islamic center came to public attention. The Islamic center was designed with the intention of being a community center that would help the Muslim American community be less isolated. But rightwingers attacked the plans because Imam Rauf was a Muslim just like the 9/11 terrorists.

So, why do Christians get to build Christian churches and community centers near the locations of violence committed by Christians and the media says nothing? Why are Christians considered innocent until proven guilty but Muslims are tried in the court of public opinion?

To get back to the YouTube discussion, according to happykillmore88, “rightwing groups are a stratified remnant of a bygone era, and do not represent people like myself.” Let me break that down. Bygone era? The militant rightwing emerged strongly in the 1990s and only died down for a time after 9/11. The 1990s isn’t exactly a bygone era. Also, the rightwing terrorism of that time included the largest domestic terrorist attack in US history. Still, even after 9/11, rightwing terrorism was far from being insignificant:”The terrorism preventions for 2002 through 2005 present a more diverse threat picture. Eight of the 14 recorded terrorism preventions stemmed from right-wing extremism” Also, it should be noted that domestic rightwing terrorists (unlike domestic leftwing terrorists and like Muslim terrorists) have tended to pursue “targeting people.” And if you thought rightwing violent radicalism was decreasing in the US, you would be sadly mistaken:

Christian terrorism has returned to America with a vengeance. And it is not just Roeder. When members of the Hutaree militia in Michigan and Ohio recently were arrested with plans to kill a random policeman and then plant Improvised Explosive Devices in the area where the funeral would be held to kill hundreds more, this was a terrorist plot of the sort that would impress Shi’ite militia and al Qaeda activists in Iraq. The Southern Poverty Law Center, founded by Morris Dees, which has closely watched the rise of right-wing extremism in this country for many decades, declares that threats and incidents of right-wing violence have risen 200% in this past year—unfortunately coinciding with the tenure of the first African-American president in US history. When Chip Berlet, one of this country’s best monitors of right-wing extremism, warned in a perceptive essay last week on RD that the hostile right-wing political climate in this country has created the groundwork for a demonic new form of violence and terrorism, I fear that he is correct.

In the TYT video at the top of this post, Cenk Uygur was referring to info from Data on Post-9/11 Terrorism in the United StatesI noticed several important details in the report:

  • “The report is deliberately more inclusive of Muslim violent extremists. The Muslim dataset accounts for both U.S. and foreign-originated plots. The nonMuslim dataset is restricted only to U.S.-originated plots.”
  • “There were 80 total plots by U.S.-originated non-Muslim perpetrators against the UnitedStates since 9/11. In comparison, there have been 45 total plots by U.S. and foreign-originated Muslim perpetrators since 9/11.”
  • “Evidence clearly indicates a general rise in violent extremism across ideologies.” “Yet, there is little evidence of rising ideological extremism among Muslim Americans.”
  • “Muslim communities helped U.S. security officials to prevent over 4 out of every 10 Al-Qaeda plots threatening the United States since 9/11. Muslim communities helped law enforcement prevent three-quarters of all Al-Qaeda related plots threatening the U.S. since December 2009.”

The first point seems odd to me. I don’t know why they included foreign-originated Muslim plots but not foreign-originated non-Muslim plots. Even with that discrepancy, the domestic non-Muslim plots still outnumber almost by twice the Muslims plots with domestic and foreign combined. Unlike like rightwingers, there is little evidence that Muslim American extremism is increasing… and, in fact, Muslim Americans have been a major force in preventing terrorism.

It just seems odd and hypocritical that the media and politicians focus so much on Islamic terrorists when the worst acts of domestic terrorism have come from rightwingers who aren’t Muslim. The Oklahoma City bombing to this day remains the largest and worst act of domestic terrorism in US history.

The fact that the 168 deaths at Oklahoma were the result of Americans killing Americans in the name of America has made the incident in some ways harder for the nation to process than 9/11 and the less complicated enemy, al-Qaida. “It made a terrible difference that this was homegrown terrorism,” says Almon-Kok. “It left you with nothing to trust or believe in, apart from my faith that this city did everything it could in the aftermath, and that we have a legal system which, for the most part, works. But that doesn’t answer why fellow Americans wanted to come killing our kids.”

Perhaps this is why the Oklahoma bomb is not as centre stage in America’s collective memory as it should be. When Al Gore was interviewed about the extreme right by Larry King recently, there was no mention of Oklahoma. Coverage of last month’s arrests of militants belonging to an offshoot of the same Michigan militia that McVeigh belonged to omitted to mention the bomb, days away from its 15th anniversary. There is extreme awkwardness around this enemy within, but also current concern about reverberations of McVeigh’s cause: war against the American government.

Even with this horrific history of rightwing extremism and violence, rightwingers can get away with all kinds of statements that no other group could get away with. Hardly a day goes by where I don’t hear in the media or see online some rightwinger inciting revolutionary overthrow of the government, promoting the killing abortion doctors, suggesting President Obama needs to be eliminated, or some other equally incendiary rhetoric. Could you imagine the outrage if a Muslim American made the exact same kind of statements as do these rightwingers do on a regular basis? Could you imagine a Muslim American politician putting crosshairs on his/her opponents as Palin did? Could you imagine a Muslim American politician talking about 2nd Amendment remedies as did Sharron Angle? Could you imagine a Muslim American pundit praising, justifying or making light of the murder of an abortion doctor killed by a Muslim American? So, why is all this acceptable for rightwingers? Is it because the rightwingers see themselves as the majority, as “Real Americans” and therefore above the law, above common decency?

It really does seem to be a double standard of how American rightwingers and the American media treat minorities, whether the minority is Muslism or blacks or any other group. Frank Schaeffer noted this double standard in relation to how black Christians are treated differently than white Christians:

When Senator Obama’s preacher thundered about racism and injustice Obama suffered smear-by-association. But when my late father — Religious Right leader Francis Schaeffer — denounced America and even called for the violent overthrow of the US government, he was invited to lunch with presidents Ford, Reagan and Bush, Sr.

Let me go back to one part of what happykillmore88 wrote:

Muslim terrorist activities are representative of the fact that it is statistically easier for a muslim to ‘misconstrue’ the words of the Quran. This is occurring at a per capita rate several times higher than in the EVIL RIGHT WING RACIST BIGOT PARTY and its growing because in America free speech is only ok if its pc anymore.

Considering the actual data, what does he even mean by these statements?

How is it statistically easier for a Muslim to ‘misconstrue’ the words of the Quran? If you put a bunch of Muslims together, you’d unlikely find any more agreement between them than you’d find with a diverse group of Christians. When I hear statements regularly made by American Christians, I don’t think they have any statistical difficulty in ‘misconstruing’ the Bible to fit their ideological agendas.

How is Muslim ‘misconstruing’ occurring at a per capita rate several times higher than rightwingers? When someone uses ‘per capita’ in making a statement, it would seem they are referring to some specific data… but he offers no data. I don’t get how free speech isn’t politically correct anymore nor how being politically correct increases Muslim ‘misconstruing’ of the Quran which I guess then supposedly increases Islamic terrorism.

He seems to imply that my demanding factual correctness is somehow my forcing political correctness. This seems to be another case of rightwing projection. Rightwingers seem to believe it’s politically incorrect when someone states the actual facts about rightwing violence, but rightwingers are incapable of seeing this demand for political correctness in themselves. So, when someone points out that a rightwinger’s claims aren’t based in facts, it’s actually the other person who is being pc for not allowing the rightwinger to make false statements.

Oh, silliness.

For further data on rightwing violence and rhetoric, see:

The Second Wave
Nativists to ‘Patriots’
The_Second_Wave.pdf (pdf, 348.89 KB)
Insurrectionism Timeline
Anti-abortion Violence
Attack on MoveOn worker is just the latest example of right-wing violence
Conservative media figures have history of violent rhetoric
Violence vs Empathy, Indifference vs Unhappiness
Do Rightwingers Love War?

US White Veteran Terrorist: the MSM that didn’t bark

Here is a story about a terrorist attempt by a US veteran who is white. The story has been conveniently ignored or underreported by most of the mainstream media. I tend to watch the news closely from various sources. I haven’t seen this story in any local or national media. The only media report I was was from RT.

Last week an ex-Army veteran from California was arrested for driving to Detroit’s largest mosque with a trunk full of explosives. Police then found Roger Stockham inside his car, outside the Islamic Center of America with a load of M-80’s and other explosives in his trunk. The mainstream media has ignored this story. Alyona asks Georgetown University Professor Christopher Chambers why the media only cares about Muslim Terrorists.

Roger Stockham arrested with explosives outside major US Mosque. Thom Hartmann discusses the story with Ibrahim Hooper, the director of CAIR Michigan.

please, spare me any suggestions that this guy, Roger Stockham, should not be charged with terrorist offences due to the fact that his explosives were legally obtainable, or “not very explosive”. terrorism is not merely determined by death tolls, it is to create fear among the targetted group (just ask the IRA).

the terrorist who tried to blow up The World Trade Center in 1993 didn’t have anywhere near enough explosives either.

here are some further links for more details:
Detroit Examiner article:

A California man is in jail on a terrorism charge after he was arrested in Dearborn for allegedly trying to blow up the biggest mosque in metro Detroit, Dearborn officials said today.

The suspect was arrested in the parking lot of the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn on Monday, while hundreds were inside the mosque that sits along Ford Road, police said. He came to the city because of its large Arab-American and Muslim population, police said.

Read the full story here:

There’s been little discussion by the mainstream media of a California man who was arrested for plotting to attack a mosque in Michigan. Roger Stockham was arrested in the Mosque parking lot with his car packed full of high end explosive fireworks as 700 people attended a funeral service inside the largest Islamic Center in Metro Detroit. Stockham targeted Detroit because it has one of highest populations of Arab-Americans in the country. He was stopped thanks to the diligence of a local bartender who had earlier heard Stockham discussing his violent plans.
This story brings up an important question – and is our poll of the day – what do you think Americans should be more fearful of, an attack by a Muslim extremist or one carried out by a disillusioned non-Muslim American?


Fear Of Terrorists Influences Parents – Study

Here is further evidence of how people become socially conservative when in a social situation that causes fear and stress. I’ve brought this up before because it explains why social conservatives have motivation to fear-monger.


As the researchers concede, these experiments aren’t proof that thoughts of terrorism have a uniquely negative effect on parenting. Exposure to images of an attack might simply have increased the parents’ stress level, “which could then translate into harsher and more controlling social interactions with their children.”

But they note previous research has found a link between terror threats and authoritarian political beliefs. The notion that this mindset could slop over into domestic decision-making seems entirely plausible.

Either way, it’s one more example of how fear can inspire behavior one may later regret. So in turbulent times, perhaps it’s wise to avoid reading the newspaper before heading to the nursery. It’s never a beautiful day in Mr. bin Laden’s Neighborhood, but that doesn’t mean you and your children need to live there.