“Conscious of his emptiness, a man tries to make a faith for himself in the political realm. In vain.”-Karl Jaspers, “Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time” (1952)
Nowadays, in the midst of near-perpetual scandal, both Democrats and Republicans are variously criticized for failing to fix a beleaguered country. But America’s core problems are not remediable in politics. By itself, no American government — no president, no congress, no promised barrage of “transformative” legislation, no purported investigations — can halt the corrosive withering of heart, body, mind and spirit that most deeply imperils these United States.
Indeed, no matter how well intentioned, informed, or generously bipartisan, no proposed rescue program can ever do more than tinker ineffectually at the outer margins of what really matters.
It is plausible, of course, to expect certain auspicious increments of progress from particular statutes and institutions, but nothing that could meaningfully drown out the lamentations of our lonely American “crowd.” Driven almost single-mindedly by considerations of taxation, commerce, and consumption, our system of governance has managed to produce a sorely bitter amalgam of plutocracy and mob rule. Unsurprisingly, our hoped-for national rescue must now lie elsewhere, that is, suitably far beyond the always-secondary spheres of government, law and economics.
“The crowd,” warned Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, “is untruth.” Within our current American crowd (Freud would have called it a “horde,” Nietzsche a “herd,” and Jung, a “mass”), loudly proclaimed differences remain essentially beside the point. This is because no purposeful national renewal, let alone a renewed “greatness,” can ever originate from politics. Whether Democrat or Republican, Liberal or Conservative, political behavior is merely what the philosophers and the social scientists would both call a “reflection.”
Unwittingly, perhaps, every society ultimately mirrors the sum total of its constituent human “souls.” These individual souls, seeking some form or another of apt “redemption,” can never be healed by any postures of shallow imitativeness, mass taste, or empty slogans. Before there is any genuine mending of America, there must first take place a proper transformation of its citizenry.
Our pertinent problems here are patently stark, but they are not unfathomable. In fact, it’s not really all that complicated. Briefly put, we Americans timorously inhabit a society so numbingly craven and so openly false that even our visceral melancholy has become contrived.
There is no call here for prescriptions to be offered sotto voce. For societies huddling uneasily at the edges of history — and America is quintessentially just such a society — emptiness is not whispered or complicated. Always, it radiates in both directions, continuously, from individual to collective, and vice versa.
There is still more necessary detail. Wallowing in the dim twilight of a near-desperate conformance, we the people display infinite forbearance for surface thinking and demeaning amusements. With its so many misdirected resentments, our people still generally hide from the most basic and indispensable affirmations of personal intellect. Now, unambiguously, America actively cultivates a collective posture of anti-reason.
This is an unphilosophical spirit which knows nothing of any real importance, and — much more ominously — wants to know nothing of any significance.
In time, it becomes a profoundly lethal spirit.
Incontestably, it is today the principal animating ethos of American politics.
Who reads serious books these days? Let us be candid. Virtually none of our national leaders could answer “yes” to this question, and their acknowledged incapacity usually turns out to be a tangible political asset. In other words, most Americans generally loathe any hint or obligation of an intellectual life, and many prefer that their elected political representatives share openly in this conspicuous hatred.
There is more. Although many Americans remain seemingly content with still-latent hopes or expectations for personal wealth, even the richest among us may actually be deprived. To be sure, while grimly resigned to a dreary future of suffocating banalities and unsatisfying work, even the most “well-off” Americans may lurch thoughtlessly from one personal forfeiture to the next, convinced that erudition creates a needless burden, and that cultivated rancor offers a commendable substitute.
Ironically, certain basic truths in America remain entirely unhidden. Expressed as genre, the “life of the mind” in our distracted country has become a discernibly thin text, one best categorized under a heading of “fiction.” Ralph Waldo Emerson’s earlier advice that we Americans should seek “plain living and high thinking” has already been fully reversed, or “turned on its head.” Unassailably, even our best universities are quickly becoming little more than expensive training schools, starkly (and sometimes proudly) bereft of any tangible “higher learning.”
Significantly, the so-called “Trump University” was never an entirely unique or singularly egregious manipulation of traditional intellectual standards. Rather, its plainly grotesque model of “education” was presaged by some of our long-standing and more genuinely authentic universities. In fact, it is not uncommon today for even the most elite educational institutions to cheerfully exchange academic legitimacy for promises of cash on the barrelhead.
Despite increasingly widespread calls for “diversity,” our national landscape is largely homogeneous on certain core matters of a deeper significance. Wherever one looks, we the people are no longer motivated by much of any enduring human value. Generally, for example, we don’t look for equanimity or balance as a healing counterpoint to distressingly frenetic lives. Instead, we search constantly and vainly for expanding opportunities to buy into an unsatisfying life of narrow imitation, one dedicated to assorted empty pleasures and easily-available chemical diversions.
To wit, tens of millions of our more-or-less exhausted citizens now consume enough alcohol and drugs to suffocate any still-lingering wisdom and to drown out whole oceans of sacred poetry.
Still, not everything is obvious. There are some distinctly consequential intellectual nuances to our dilemma. Accordingly, it is possible for we the people to be lonely in the world, or lonely for the world. Somehow, however, our leveling mass culture has managed to produce both kinds of loneliness.
Looking ahead, before a more noble and generous America can be born from any such bifurcated loneliness, we will first have to learn to look diligently beneath the news.
For the moment, whatever is being decided in politics, we Americans will be carried forth not by any identifiable nobility of “high thinking and plain living,” but instead by sorrowful eruptions of private fear and collective agitation. At times, we the people may wish to slow down a bit and smell the roses, but our increasingly battered and battering country will likely still impose upon us the hideously merciless rhythms of a grinding and unstoppable machine. Among other things, the expected end of all this breathless delirium could keep us from remembering who we once were, and, even more importantly, who we once might have become.
If politics can never save us, where then shall we turn? What, if anything, can be done to escape the pendulum of our own mad national clockwork? We routinely pay lip service to the high ideals of the Declaration and the Constitution, but almost no one truly cares about these musty old documents. Invoked only for effect or ostentation, the legal and philosophical foundations of the United States have already become the insignificant province of a tiny and grievously irrelevant minority.
It didn’t always have to be this way. In fact, we Americans inhabit the one society that could have been different. Once, we possessed a commendably unique potential to nurture individuals to become more than just cogs in a compliant machine. Emerson, after all, had described us optimistically as a people guided by industry and “self-reliance.”
Now, however, our true motivators lie more obviously in “fitting in,” in anger, in greed, in fear, and in a perpetual trembling.
In spite of an insistently proud claim to “rugged individualism,” we Americans are shaped most decisively by the mass. As visible manifestations, our fragmented and inelegant society positively bristles with annoying jingles, coarse hucksterism, infantile allusions, and telltale equivocations. Surely, we must soon inquire: Isn’t there anything more to this noisy and suffocating country than an illiterate politics, raw commerce and hideously cheap entertainments?
“I celebrate myself, and sing myself,” said the poet Walt Whitman, but today the American Self is under steady assault by a vast and rancorous mediocrity, and also by a literally epidemic gluttony.
In the end, credulity remains America’s worst enemy. Our still willing inclination to believe that personal and societal redemption can somehow lie in politics describes a potentially fatal disorder. To be sure, many critical social and economic issues do need to be addressed further by our government, but so too must our deeper problems be solved at the “molecular” or exquisitely personal human level.
In the end, this is the only level of any real change and transformation, a level that is not a mere reflection.
Always, in such matters, history deserves a cherished pride of place. A threatened civilization too often compromises with its underlying afflictions. To restore us, as a nation, to long-term health and real potential, we the people must first learn to look usefully beyond a perpetually futile faith in politics.
It is only when such a gainful swerve of consciousness can become a fully irreversible gesture — only when we finally choose to acknowledge the critically vital correlations between individual human growth, intellectual examination and societal harmony — that we Americans can reasonably hope to mend an otherwise “empty” nation.
Author’s note: This essay first appeared in The Daily Princetonian, Princeton University, where the author was educated. Republished under his permission.
Geopolitical Competition Logic as Seen From U.S.-Soviet Union Differences
Under the backdrop of rising anti-globalization sentiments, the Covid-19 pandemic further deteriorates the international geopolitical environment. A prominent example of this is the U.S.- China relations that are in the danger escalating into a full-blown conflict. Ever since President Donald Trump took office, trade deficit and tariff-related issues were often cited as the reason behind China and the U.S.’ increasing frictions. In truth, what is happening is U.S. has redefined China’s strategic position. As the “National Defense Strategy Report” puts it, China is U.S.’ primary long-term strategic competitor. This is a significant change never seen before since the end of the Cold War.
How would things pan out in the future? To answer that question, we must first look back on history. If a similar historical event were to be found, it is important that we pay extra attention to it, as it allows us to better understand the logic of U.S.’ geopolitical competition.
Many people know that George Kennan was the brains behind the “Cold War” and “Containment” strategy, though in truth, there were other geo-strategists involved throughout the 45-year history Cold War too, including Zbigniew Brzezinski. Brzezinski was a well-known Polish-Jewish American geostrategic theorist whose political career was at its pinnacle when he served as President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor and was also considered the de facto manipulator of the U.S. foreign policy in the late 1970s. In 1986, he published the book “Game Plan”, which contrary to popular beliefs, did not discuss the pros and cons of the ideology or national system in U.S. and the Soviet Union, but served as a guide for the actions in geopolitical competition. It provided the U.S. with a “geostrategic framework for the conduct of the U.S.-Soviet Union contest” through a composed yet convincing rationale.
Brzezinski stated that conflicts between maritime and continental powers were often protracted, and that the U.S.- Soviet Union conflict was historical in nature. People became increasingly aware that the conflict stemmed from multiple reasons and difficult to resolve fully and quickly. For decades to come, the struggle had to be handled with the utmost patience and perseverance by both countries. Brzezinski even argued that geopolitical factors alone could push the two major post-war powers into conflict. The differences both the U.S. and Soviet Union had was greater than any pair of adversaries the history had ever seen, and it could be summed up in ten aspects:
1. The differences in their geopolitical imperatives: The relationship between the U.S. and Soviet Union was not just a classic historical conflict between two major powers, it was a struggle of two imperial systems too. It marked the first time ever in history that two countries competed for global dominance.
2. The unique historical experiences that formed both countries’ political subconsciousness: The U.S. was an open and free society composed of voluntary immigrants. Despite their varying pasts, these immigrants yearned for a common future. Meanwhile, the Soviet society fell under the state institutions and thus, was relegated to their control. The Soviet Union achieved its expansion through the conquest of organized force and punitive immigration guided by the central government.
3. Differing philosophies: Such philosophies either form the concept of nationality or are formally established through an ideology. America’s emphasis on the individual is enshrined in the Bill of Rights. The Soviet Union institutionalized the concept and practice of the individual subservient to the state.
4.Differences in political institutions and traditions determines how decisions are discussed and made: The U.S. has an open political competition system that is strengthened by the free public opinion and formalized by secret ballots, free elections, and a conscious separation of executive, legislative, and judicial powers. The Soviet Union however, concentrated these powers in a monopolistic manner, in the hands of a closed and disciplined leadership that was both self-elected and self-perpetuating.
5. Differences in the relationship between faiths and politics that define the society’s mind: The U.S. prioritizes one’s freedom to choose their religion freely and minimizes and consciously separates church and state. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union subordinated the church to the state. This was done not to inculcate orthodox religious values, but rather to promote state-sponsored atheism while limiting the scope of religious activities.
6. Different economic systems: Though far from perfect, America’s economic system provides people with opportunities and encourages individual initiative, private ownership, risk-taking, and to pursue profit. It provides a high standard of living for most people. In the Soviet Union, the political leadership directed all economic activities, the main means of production were centralized through state ownership, and free initiative and private ownership were deliberately limited against the background of persistent economic poverty and relative backwardness.
7. Different ways in pursuing self-satisfaction: The U.S. is a volatile, consumer-oriented and highly mobile society. Its mass culture, crude in certain ways, is prone to changing fashion trends and frequent artistic experiments. Social emotions there too, are prone to sudden changes. Perhaps it is due to the lack of a sense of civic duty in the U.S. that the state is unable to make formal demands on individuals. On the other hand, the Soviet Union promoted a more modest and restrictive way of survival within its culture and it allowed citizens to seek solace from deeper, perhaps closer family relationships and collective friendships than Americans could ever have. That said, most Soviet people were to obey to the massive demands of a Socialist patriotism.
8. Both systems appeal to different ideologies: The U.S. society influences the world through communication and mass media via “Americanizing” youths and creating an exaggerated image of the country, contrary to the Soviet Union who cultivated the image of a “fair society” that appeals to the poor countries of the world. It presented itself as the vanguard in world revolution, though the tactic lost its credibility when people realized the stagnation of the Soviet society, its low efficiency in economy and its political bureaucratization.
9. The two great powers had historically different cycles of in ascending and declining in power and robustness as well as prospering: The U.S. is still clearly at its peak. Its heyday may be over, but it remains a global superpower at forefront nonetheless. As long as history can remember, the Soviet Union has aspired to be the Third Rome for a long time, hence its pursuit of hegemony and its willingness to make more necessary sacrifices compared to its rival.
10. Both sides defined their historical victories differently, and that indirectly affected the setting of their respective short-term goals: The U.S. has a dim desire to pursue “world peace” and global democracy, as well as cultivate a sense of a patriotism that undoubtedly benefits itself. It wishes to lead the world by relating to the prospects of the world. The Soviet Union ’s aspirations however, were focused around “surpassing the U.S.” to become the core of a world composed of increasing Socialist countries who shared its school of thought, as well as becoming the center of Eurasia in an attempt to exclude its opponent.
Final analysis conclusion
Looking back at Brzezinski ’s analysis 34 years ago in year 2020, we can certainly infer the logic behind the U.S.’ geopolitical competition during the Cold War. Compared to the past, the U.S. has undergone great changes. It still adheres to some its past principles, though most have been done away. Some principles are just the same, though its message has changed. With that in mind, the international geopolitical competition participated by a reinvented United States could very well produce different results than those during the Cold War. Of course, any major country that “competes” with the U.S. needs to learn the lessons from the Soviet Union’s past development too, so that they don’t repeat their mistakes.
Beware, the Blame-Game Will Backfire
The blames that certain American politicians have been trying to shift to China have all backfired on themselves, and the hardest-working blame-game player Mike Pompeo is considered by many American media and netizens as “one of the worst Secretaries of State in history.”
Shifting the blame to others has eventually boomeranged against themselves. What exactly have they done to shift the blame then?
At first, the American politicians played “face change” repeatedly. They praised China’s anti-virus efforts when COVID-19 first broke out in the country. Then all of a sudden, they changed their tune and began to criticize China. The U-turn in their attitude came at a subtle timing when the outbreak quickly escalated in the US. With a mentality of speculation and adventurism, the anxious and upset US politicians felt no qualms about going back on their own words. What an eye-opening farce for the world!
Later, they joined efforts to stigmatize China. As the pandemic spread ever more quickly across the US to the brink of going completely out of control, some politicians couldn’t wait to stand up and collectively slam and smear China, using very tough and strong words even though they knew the accusations carried no weight. Being incompetent in controlling the pandemic at home, they have been adamant about scapegoating China and put forth all sorts of China-bashing fallacies.
But the truth always beats lies in the end. The false accusations made by those politicians were not bought even by their own people, not to mention the rest of the world. When asked if they had any evidence to prove that the virus came from China, the politicians just beat around the bush, unable to give a direct answer. Their bluffing trick, after playing for a long time, was seen through. The continuously worsening pandemic situation in the US has infuriated its media and people so much that criticisms of the government and its officials for their slow and bungled response have never stopped. Facts have proven that these politicians, failing to shift the blame, have finally shot themselves in the foot.
Now that the blame-game doesn’t work, the true situation about America’s pandemic prevention and control can no longer be covered up. It is exactly because of those American politicians who, instead of concentrating on bringing the outbreak under control, are only focused on smearing other countries and shifting the blame to others that the US has left the world far behind in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases. Closer scrutiny would show that their blame-game just revealed their incorrigible “sinophobia paranoia.”
Some American politicians have been trumpeting the “end of history” theory. They don’t want to see a fast-developing and strong China, much less a successful socialist country. Still, history rolls forward irrespective of personal wishes, and no force can stop China’s progress. Thanks to the tremendous efforts made since the outbreak, China has achieved remarkable success in containing the virus, and resumed business operation and production across the country.
In contrast, the US has become the epicenter of the global pandemic, with the virus spreading further, and the number of infections and deaths still on the rise. Such a comparison is the last thing that those infected with “sinophobia paranoia” want to see. So, they played the blame-game to pass the buck for their poor epidemic response, and defame and throw obstacles at China’s development. How insidious!
Justice lies in people’s hearts. The people of the world have seen clearly that the fancy slogans like “America first” and “making America great again” should be based on “bearing responsibilities” rather than shirking them. The irresponsible and unconscionable move of shifting blame will in no way help with the anti-epidemic efforts; rather, it will only lead to an irremediable situation where the US has no choice but to eat the bitter fruit of its own making.
There is an old Chinese saying that goes “lift a rock only to drop it on one’s own feet,” which is similar to “shift the blame only to have it backfire.” We advise those American politicians, who confuse right with wrong, cling to the past, maintain biased viewpoints and randomly shift blame, to stop making anti-China noises and face up to justice, reason, and public opinion. After all, blaming China won’t cure your “disease” or make your wish to curb China’s development come true. That the US insists on going its own way stubbornly and recklessly will only make itself a laughing stock and the target of disdain.
Donald Trump, “The Crowd” And A Nation’s Bitter Despair
“The crowd is untruth.”-Soren Kierkegaaard
The “crowd,” cautioned Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, is “untruth.” Nowhere is the concise wisdom of this 19th century warning more plainly apparent than in Donald Trump’s despairing United States. Even today, even after so much rancorous presidential dissemblance and chicanery, this fragmenting and unhappy nation too often accepts incoherent political dogma as proper authority and conspicuously vile political gibberish as truth.
Even now, even when a derelict president elevates his own contrived and illiterate judgments concerning epidemiology above the authoritative opinion of America’s distinguished scientists and physicians, millions of his supporters still offer a visceral “amen.” In essence, these “obedient” citizens stand in stubbornly open support of untruth or anti-Reason. Why?
How can this unchanging self-destructiveness be suitably explained?
It gets even worse. In certain refractory instances, this irrational hierarchy of US citizen preference has led hundreds (perhaps thousands) of Americans to consume potentially lethal medications against Covid-19. What are these “obedient” people “thinking”? This is a president, let us not forget, who thinks human bodies can somehow undergo beneficial anti-viral “cleanings” with commercially-available disinfectants. If it can “kill” virus on tabletops, reasons Trump openly, why not take the remediating substance internally?
Credo quia absurdum, affirmed the ancient philosophers. “I believe because it is absurd.” Still, this is a president of the United States in the year 2020. How can such preposterous “reasoning” be accepted by literally millions of Americans?
There is more. How shall such normally incomprehensible behaviors be explained more gainfully? At one level, at least, the answer is obvious. America is no longer a society that sincerely values knowledge, education or learning. Led by a retrograde man of commerce who never reads books – indeed, who proudly reads nothing at all – this has become a “know nothing” country, a nation that wittingly and shamelessly spurns both intellect and truth. For whatever deeply underlying reasons, docile Trump minions seek to keep themselves “anesthetized.”
In this active form of complicity with self-destruction, these Americans are not passive victims. Rather, they insistently hold themselves captive by a lengthening string of embarrassingly false presidential reassurances and by clinging to endlessly mindless Trump simplifications of complex problems.
In her magisterial two-volume work, The Life of the Mind (1971), political philosopher Hannah Arendt makes much of the “manifest shallowness” of historical evil-doers, hypothesizing that the critically underlying causes of harm are not specifically evil motives or common stupidity per se. Rather, she concludes controversially but convincingly, the root problem is thoughtlessness, a more-or-less verifiable human condition that makes a susceptible individual readily subject to the presumed “wisdom” of clichés, stock phrases and narrowly visceral codes of expression.
There are always a great many who will be “susceptible.” This does not mean only those who lack a decent formal education. Significantly, in Donald Trump’s fragmenting America, just as earlier in the Third Reich, well-educated and affluent persons have joined forces with gun worshippers and street fighters to meet certain presumptively overlapping objectives. In the end, we may learn from both history and logic, each faction will suffer grievously alongside the general citizenry.
Both sides will “lose.”
For philosopher Hannah Arendt, the core problem is this: a literal absence of thinking. In her learned and lucid assessment, evil is not calculable according to any specific purpose or ideology. Rather, it is deceptively commonplace and altogether predictable. Evil, we may learn from the philosopher, is “banal.”
There is more. Fundamentally, the “mass man” or “mass woman” (a Jungian term that closely resembles Arendt’s evildoer) who cheers wildly in rancorous presidential crowds, and whatever the articulated gibberish of the moment, favors a constant flow of empty witticisms over any meaningful insights of reasoning or science. Living in a commerce-driven society that has been drifting ever further from any still-residual “life of the mind,” this susceptible American is a perfect “recruit” for Trumpian conversion.
This “obedient” citizen, after all, has absolutely no use for study, evidence or critical thinking of any kind. Why should he? Der Fuhrer will do his “thinking” for him.
Could anything be more “convenient?”
With Arendt and Jung, the anti-Reason “culprit” is unmasked. It is the once-individual human being who has wittingly ceased to be an individual, who has effectively become the unapologetic enemy of intellect and a reliable ally of thoughtlessness. Using the succinct but incomparably expressive words of Spanish philosopher Jose Oretga y’Gassett, he or she thinks only “in his own flesh.” Following any such antecedent triumphs of anti-Reason in the United States, it becomes more easy to understand the hideous rise and political survival of dissembling American President Donald J. Trump.
America’s most insidious enemy in this suffocating Trump Era should now be easier to recognize. It is an unphilosophical national spirit that knows nothing and wants to know nothing of truth. Now facing unprecedented and overlapping crises of health, economics and law, sizable elements of “We the People” feel at their best when they can chant anesthetizing gibberish in mesmerizing chorus. “We’re number one; we’re number one,“these Americans still shout reflexively, even as their country’s capacity to project global power withers minute by minute, and even as the already ominous separations of rich and poor have come to mimic (and sometimes exceed) what is discoverable in the most downtrodden nations on earth.
Most alarmingly, among these manifold catastrophic American declensions, the badly-wounded American nation is still being led by an utterly ignorant pied piper, by a would-be emperor who was stunningly “naked” from the start and who has now managed to bring the United States to once unimaginable levels of suffering. In this connection, the Corona Virus pandemic was not of his own personal making, of course, but this relentless plague has become infinitely more injurious under Trump’s unsteady dictatorial hand.
Nonetheless, the champions of anti-Reason in America will still generally rise to defend their Fuhrer. He did not create this growing plague, we are reminded. He is, therefore, just another victim of a plausibly unavoidable national circumstance. Why keep picking on this innocent and brilliant man? Instead, let us stand loyally by his inconspicuously sagacious counsel.
Recalling philosopher Hannah Arendt, such determinedly twisted loyalties stem originally from massive citizen thoughtlessness. Though Donald Trump is not in any way responsible for the actual biological menace of our current plague, he has still willingly weakened the American nation’s most indispensable medical and scientific defenses. It is well worth mentioning too, on this particular count, that meaningful national defense always entails more than just large-scale weapons systems and infrastructures. Looking ahead, moreover, this country has far more to gain from a coherent and science-based antivirus policy than from a patently preposterous Trumpian “Space Force.”
Thomas Jefferson, Chief architect of the Declaration of Independence, earlier observed the imperative congruence of viable national democracy with wisdom and learning. Today, however, many still accept a president whose proud refrain during the 2016 election process was “I love the poorly educated.” Among other humiliating derelictions, this refrain represented a palpable echo of Third Reich Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels Nuremberg rally comment: “Intellect rots the brain.”
Americans are polarized not only by race, ethnicity and class, but also by inclination or disinclination to serious thought. For most of this dreary and unhappy country, any inclination toward a “life of the mind” is anathema. In irrefutable evidence, trivial or debasing entertainments remain the only expected compensation for a shallow national life of tedious obligation, financial exhaustion and premature death. This sizable portion of the populace, now kept distant from authentic personal growth by every imaginable social and economic obstacle, desperately seeks residual compensations, whether in silly slogans, status-bearing affiliations or the manifestly deranging promises of Trump Era politics.
Even at this eleventh hour, Americans must learn understand that no nation can be “first” that does not hold the individual “soul” sacred. At one time in our collective history, after American Transcendental philosophers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, a spirit of personal accomplishment did actually earn high marks. Then, young people especially, strove to rise interestingly, not as the embarrassingly obedient servants of destructive power and raw commerce, but as plausibly proud owners of a unique and personal Self.
Alas, today this Self “lives” together with increasingly unbearable material and biologically uncertain ties. Whether Americans would prefer to become more secular or more reverent, to grant government more authority over their lives, or less, a willing submission to multitudes has become the nation’s most unifying national “religion.” Regarding the pied piper in the White House, many Americans accept even the most patently preposterous Trump claims of enhanced national security. Credo quia absurdum.
Upon returning to Washington DC after the Singapore Summit, President Trump made the following statement: “Everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.”
It’s not just America. Crowd-like sentiments like these have a long and diversified planetary history. We are, to be fair, hardly the first people to surrender to crowds. The contemporary crowd-man or woman is, in fact, a primitive and universal being, one who has uniformly “slipped back,” in the words of Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, “through the wings, on to the age-old stage of civilization.”
This grotesque stage is not bare. It is littered with the corpses of dead civilizations. Indiscriminately, the crowd defiles all that is most gracious and still-promising in society. Charles Dickens, during his first visit to America, already observed back in 1842: “I do fear that the heaviest blow ever dealt at liberty will be dealt by this country in the failure of its example to the earth.”
To this point, at least, Americans have successfully maintained their political freedom from traditional political tyranny and oppression, but – plainly – this could now change at almost any moment. Already, we have come to accept in once unimaginable terms the kind of presidential manipulation and bullying that can shred and pull apart well-established constitutions. As corollary, Americans have also cravenly surrendered their liberty to become authentic persons. Openly deploring a life of meaning and sincerity, a nation stubbornly confuses wealth with success, blurting out rhythmic chants of patriotic celebration even as their cheerless democracy vanishes into meaninglessness, pandemic disease and a plausibly irremediable despair.
Whatever its origin, there is an identifiable “reason” lying behind this synchronized delirium. In part, at least, such orchestrated babble seeks to protect Americans from a potentially terrifying and unbearable loneliness. In the end, however, it is a contrived and inevitably lethal remedy . In the end, it offers just another Final Solution.
Still, there remain individual American citizens of integrity and courage. The fearlessly resolute individual who actively seeks an escape from the steadily-poisoning “crowd,” the One who opts heroically for disciplined individual thought over effortless conformance, must feel quite deeply alone. “The most radical division,” asserted José Ortega y Gasset in 1930, “is that which splits humanity…. those who make great demands on themselves…and those who demand nothing special of themselves…” In 1965, the Jewish philosopher, Abraham Joshua Heschel, offered an almost identical argument. Lamenting, “The emancipated man is yet to emerge,” Heschel then asked each One to inquire: “What is expected of me? What is demanded of me?”
Why are these same questions so casually pushed aside by current American supporters of a rancorous president who opposes “emancipation” in any conceivable form?
There is more. It is time for camouflage and concealment in our pitiful American crowd to yield to what Abraham Joshua Heschel called “being-challenged-in-the-world.” Individuals who would dare to read books for more than transient entertainment, and who are willing to risk social and material disapproval in exchange for exiting the crowd (“emancipation”), offer America its only real and lasting hope. To be sure, these rare souls can seldom be found in politics, in universities, in corporate boardrooms or almost anywhere (there are some exceptions still) on radio, television or in the movies. Always, their critical inner strength lies not in pompous oratory, catchy crowd phrases, or observably ostentatious accumulations of personal wealth (“Trump. Trump, Trump“), but in the considerably more ample powers of genuineness, thought and Reason.
There is much yet to learn. Currently, not even the flimsiest ghost of intellectual originality haunts America’s public discussions of politics and economics, even those organized by intelligent and well-meaning Trump opponents. Now that America’s largely self-deceiving citizenry has lost all residual sense of awe in the world, this national public not only avoids authenticity, it positively loathes it. Indeed, in a nation that has lost all recognizable regard for the Western literary canon, our American crowdsgenerally seek aid, comfort and fraternity in a conveniently shared public illiteracy.
Inter alia, the classical division of American society into Few and Mass represents a useful separation of those who are imitators from those who could initiate real understanding. “The mass,” said Jose Ortega y Gasset, “crushes beneath it everything that is different, everything that is excellent, individual, qualified and select.” Today, in foolish and prospectively fatal deference to this Mass, the intellectually un-ambitious American not only wallows lazily in nonsensical political and cultural phrases of a naked emperor, he or she also applauds a manifestly shallow national ethos of personal surrender.
“America First,” yes, but only in Covid-19 mortality.
By definition, the Mass, or Crowd, can never become Few. Yet, someindividual members of the Mass can make the very difficult transformation. Those who are already part of the Few must announce and maintain their determined stance. “One must become accustomed to living on mountains,” says Nietzsche, “to seeing the wretched ephemeral chatter of politics and national egotism beneath one.” It was Nietzsche, too, in Zarathustra, who warned presciently: “Never seek the Higher Man at the marketplace.”
Aware that they may still comprise a core barrier to America’s spiritual, cultural, intellectual and political disintegration, the Few, resolute opponents of the Crowd, knowingly refuse to chant in chorus. Ultimately, they should remind us of something very important: It is that both individually and collectively, doggedly staying the course of self-actualization and self-renewal – a lonely course of lucid consciousness rather than self-inflicted delusion – is the only honest and purposeful option for an imperiled nation.
Today, unhindered in their endlessly misguided work, Trump Era cheerleaders in all walks of life draw feverishly upon the sovereignty of an unqualified Crowd. This Mass depends for its very breath of life on the relentless withering of personal dignity, and also on the continued servitude of all independent citizen consciousness. Oddly, “We the people,” frightfully unaware of this dangerous parasitism, are being passively converted into the fuel for the omnivorous machine of Trumpian “democracy.” This is a pathologic system of governance in which the American citizenry is still permitted to speak and interact freely, but which is also an anti-intellectual plutocracy.
In the early 1950s, Karl Jaspers, well familiar with the seminal earlier writings of Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, sought to explain what a dissembling “Crowd” had brought to his native Germany and Germany’s captive nations. Publishing Reason and Anti-Reason in Our Time in 1952, the distinguished German philosopher explained the formidable difficulties of sustaining Reason among many who would prefer “the fog of the irrational.” Now, Jaspers’ earlier observations about Nazi Germany may apply equally well to Donald Trump’s dissembling America:
Reason is confronted again and again with the fact of a mass of believers who have lost all ability to listen, who can absorb no argument and who hold unshakably fast to the Absurd as an unassailable presupposition….
Here, in essence, Jaspers here underscores the “fraudulent freedom of obedience” in any society that might seemingly will itself to be a democracy, but is actually just an oblique celebration of tyranny, moreover, the singularly arch-tyranny of anti-Reason. In earlier times, such perverse celebrations were unexceptional or even de rigeur, but they also “set the stage” for what Americans are experiencing so painfully at the present moment. To some extent, at least, for America to be freed from the false freedom of obedience will demand the whole society be placed in status nascens, as if newly born.
, When, in 1633, Galileo Galilei kneeled before the Inquisitorial Tribunal of Rome and was forced to renounce the compelling science of Copernicus, he revealed the vulnerability of Reason to the mortal seductions of anti-Reason. In this case, history deserves notable pride of place. When Americans watch the evening news depicting US President Donald Trump railing thoughtlessly against well-established theories of biology and medical science, they should finally begin to appreciate something utterly primal. Such flagrant seductions of anti-Reason are not only sinister, but also lethal.
“The crowd is untruth.”
 In this regard, consider the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s succinct warning in Zarathusrtra: “Never seek the higher man at the marketplace.”
 One may be usefully reminded of Bertrand Russell’s trenchant observation in Principles of Social Reconstruction (1916): “Men fear thought more than they fear anything else on earth – more than ruin, more even than death.”
 Said Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels in 1934: “”Whoever can conquer the street will one day conquer the state.” Later, in 2019, Donald Trump echoed this dreadful sentiment: “I have the support of the street, of the police, of the military, the support of Bikers for Trump. I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough – until they go to a certain point and then it would be very bad, very bad.” In a similar vein, during a 2016 rally in Las Vegas, Trump told a wildly cheering crowd that he’d “like to punch the protestors in the face.” “I love the old days, you know what they used to do to guys like that when they’re in a place like this, they’d be carried out on a stretcher,” Then, identifying a specific target person in the audience, Trump added: I’d like to punch him in the face.”
 See the pertinent writings of Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung, especially The Undiscovered Self (1957).
 A current example is flag-waving Trump supporters who hold signs blaming distinguished epidemiologist Dr. Anthony Fauci for “tyrannical” closure policies, and simultaneously urging greater medical authority for President Donald J Trump.
 “The mass-man,” we were warned earlier by Ortega in The Revolt of the Masses (1930) “has no attention to spare for reasoning; he learns only in his own flesh.” Nothing could be more conspicuously clarifying than this graphic metaphor.
 Apropos of truth in Plato’s The Republic: “To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.”
 See, by this author, Louis René Beres: https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2020/04/the-trump-presidency-a-breathtaking-assault-on-law-justice-and-security/
 “This virus is going to disappear,” said Trump, on February 27th, 2020.
 On this matter, of course, one ought also note this president’s withdrawal from treaties with Russia and from the United Nations World Health Organization. Credo quia absurdum.
 The United States Space Force was created by US President Donald Trump on December 20, 2019, under terms of the National Defense Authorization Act. Although it is intended to bolster this country’s overall military power in any expanding strategic competition with Russia, its most likely effects will be contractive, corrosive and destabilizing. The critical underlying US policy error being committed in this creation is conceptual and historic. In essence, it consists of failing to recognize that millennia of belligerent geopolitical competitions have resulted not in peace, but in assorted forms of international war. At a unique time when the United States faces a new and unpredictable set of dangers from worldwide disease pandemic, shifting large sums of money needed for public health to a space-centered arena of future international conflict represents mistaken national priorities. Of course, from what we ought already have learned about Reason and Anti-Reason, before this miscalculation can be changed, America’s leaders will have to appreciate the fundamentally intellectual antecedents of US foreign policy decision-making at every level.
 This president’s self-serving refrain of “America First” ignores an absolutely overarching empirical truth: America is “first” in Covid-19 deaths, but not in any other tangibly enviable standard of civilizational quality or improvement. Always, we have the biggest bombs and missiles, but little else to show for even the most basic expectations of human empathy and compassion. For this president and his retrograde followers, caring about others is a sign of weakness. Nothing else. To wit, in the president’s currently most evident example, wearing a mask against Covid-19 infection is described as little more than “political correctness.”
 Both Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung thought of “soul” (in German, Seele) as the very essence of a human being. Neither Freud nor Jung ever provides a precise definition of the term, but it was not intended by either in any ordinary religious sense. For both psychologists, it was a still-recognizable and critical seat of both mind and passions in this life. Interesting, too, in the present context, is that Freud explained his already-predicted decline of America by various express references to “soul.” Freud was disgusted by any civilization so apparently unmoved by considerations of true “consciousness” (e.g., awareness of intellect and literature), and even thought that the anti-intellectual American commitment to perpetually shallow optimism and to crudely material accomplishment would occasion sweeping psychological misery.
 The worst expression of such incoherent presidential reassurance would likely be a nuclear war. For authoritative early accounts by this author of nuclear war effects, see: Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: U.S. Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1984); and Louis René Beres, Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1986). Most recently, by Professor Beres, see: Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (New York, Rowman & Littlefield, 2016; 2nd ed. 2018).
 Dostoyevsky reminds us soberly: “And what is it in us that is mellowed by civilization? All it does, I’d say, is to develop in man a capacity to feel a greater variety of sensations. And nothing, absolutely nothing else. And through this development, man will yet learn how to enjoy bloodshed. Why, it has already happened….Civilization has made man, if not always more bloodthirsty, at least more viciously, more horribly bloodthirsty.” (See Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes From Underground, 108 (Andrew R. Mac Andrew, tr., New American Library, 1961 (1862).
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