Uncharted Territory

Historical analogies seem like useful tools for understanding current events. Everyone has heard, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it” a bazillion times. Of course, our analogies are always to past disasters. Most people reading this can probably name a dozen people that have been compared to Hitler and another dozen examples of Western leaders being compared to Neville Chamberlain. For the most part, our analogies to the past are always warnings of pending doom. No one ever compares the present to some tranquil time in the past.

Humans have limited information processing capacity so nature devised ways for us to quickly process information. Pattern matching is one fast way to locate danger in a very crowded scene. If a current event resembles a past event in some way, then maybe they have other things in common. The logical shorthand is AX:BX::AY:BY, with X being the commonality we know and Y being the commonality we inferred. This sort of reasoning is really only useful in avoiding danger, thus the salience of the Santayana quote. Otherwise, he would have said “blessed” rather than “doomed.”

The thing about Hitler, Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun and so on is that they had no obvious analog in the past. The events in Germany after the Great War were very unique. In fact, there’s no good example from the past to which they compare. Similarly, the world had never seen the likes of Genghis Khan, which is why the Mongols had so much success. One big reason Attila was so scary to the Romans was that he was clearly a different breed of Hun. Because he was not like his predecessors, he was unpredictable and therefore a very frightening figure to the Romans.

Of course, this is why comparing every two-bit dictator to Hitler is silly. Saddam was not Hitler. Qaddafi was not Hitler either. Obama cutting a deal with the Iranians may be stupid, but that does not make him Chamberlain. In other words, our attempts to understand the present by finding scary analogs in the past has led to one blunder after another in the Middle East. Our pathological need to remember the lessons of Vietnam made success in Afghanistan an impossibility. Because we remembered the past, we made entirely new and avoidable mistakes.

The point of this is that the upcoming election is being compared to 1980, 1968, 1932 (you know who) and Trump has been compared to everyone from Hitler to Andrew Jackson. Everyone is groping around for a useful historical analogy in order to make sense of this highly improbably election. The most important political office on the planet will either be filled by the wife of a former President or filled by a billionaire real estate developer. It’s not exactly Henry Tudor versus Richard III, but the consequences are probably going to be much more important.

This election is looking like an extreme outlier. Hillary Clinton is the only presidential candidate to have been accused of violating espionage laws. She may have beat the rap, but name another candidate that had even a whiff of traitorous intent. Trump is the first novice to run as a major party candidate since Wendell Wilkie in 1940 and that’s not a great comparison as Wilkie was involved in politics his whole life. Other than stroking checks to candidates for favors, Trump has not been very political.

Then there is the fact that both parties are a mess at the moment. The Democrats have a collection of geezers at the top and no bench. Their “young guns” are still in college. No one really wanted Clinton, but there was no one else so she is the nominee. On the GOP side, Trump is hated by the party and some segments of the GOP voters. He’s the nominee primarily because the rest of the party is a dog’s breakfast of globalist fantasies and 1980’s romanticism. The sense of betrayal among conservative voters is at revolutionary levels.

What’s most incredible about all of it is the extreme disconnect between the party elites and their voters. Most Democrat voters would prefer less immigration and better polices for the middle-class and working class. Similarly, most Republican voters would respond to similar appeals, with an emphasis on the more business friendly stuff. Yet, neither party is offering much of anything on these issues. Instead they are obsessed with weird fads like transvestites or globalist esoterica that no one outside the global elites finds interesting.

We do seem to be in uncharted territory, which may not be a terrible thing. Historical analogies are often wildly mistaken, resulting is disasters like the endless wars in the Muslim lands. The battles of the Great War were mostly due to the generals clinging to lessons of the past, despite the carnage they were witnessing. Much of what plagues American politics today is a layer of Baby Boomer politicians who can’t stop reliving the 1960’s. A break from the past could be the palate cleanser society needs. Or, we may be rocketing over a cliff.

newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Member

Great post. You, sir, have made my list of daily must-read blogs.

Severian
Guest

Put me down for “rocketing over a cliff.” The particulars are highly irregular in this election, yes, but crises of legitimacy are all over the historical record, and that’s what we have here. Time was, even the most entrenched aristocracy had to have a justification for remaining in power, other than “a long tradition of existence to its members and the community at large.” If it didn’t, well, pretenders to the throne were a dime a dozen. The Dirt People work the jobs and staff the armies — push them enough, and they’ll listen to whatever bastard half-cousin of the… Read more »

SgtBob
Guest

The Dirt People are not so maliable, no so push-aroundable as to listen to any ‘bastard half-cousin of the queen’s nephew.’ Dirt People listen and talk and vote (or don’t vote, which is inexcusable in a republic). Dirt People have a great understanding of injustice, far greater than the elitist establishment. Unlike their “betters,” Dirt People believe in “We hold these truths …”

Severian
Guest

Kinda my point — if the Elite keep pushing the Dirt Folk around, the Dirt Folk will find themselves a new Elite. And there’s always someone else ready and willing to be the new Elite– the queen’s nephew’s bastard cousin, or whomever. The point is that the Elite don’t get to be Elite simply by declaring themselves so — they have to provide some value, or they will be replaced.

Steven Johnson
Guest

Wait .. we didn’t repeat the exact same mistakes of Vietnam in Afghanistan?

I’m thinking of letting the Taliban have sanctuary in Pakistan, vice the VC in Cambodia. And departing a province once it was pacified, only to have it fall to the enemy anew. And inability to stand up a reliable sepoy army, although it appears the ARVN did a lot better than our Afghan allies.

But … oh, are you thinking of our willingness to use massive firepower/bomb North Vietnam, whereas we have insanely restrictive ROE’s in Afghanistan? Because that’s a fair point.

Dutch
Guest
Dutch

Cleansing moments in history have typically involved the obliteration of everything in sight in some areas of the Earth’s geography. Unfortunately, it seems that we are more inclined today to want to visit such devastation on our own neighbors rather than on some people and places far, far away. That is the legacy of our current leadership.

Member

Aaron Burr did some stuff that had the air of treason about it, but that was aeons past and at the end of his political career. I’d go back to the assumption that Trump is the the Dirt People’s scourge to use against the elites. Further assuming he elects to play that role, how do the elites react? A few masks have dropped recently. I’d expect that a “scourge of the elites” Trump would cause quite a few more to reveal what’s in their hands to steady and unite the the base (coded language is too slow and some might… Read more »

Doug
Guest
Doug

Z, I coined the term Trump is the great fuck you, back in August, because to me he represented a true paradigm, my thinking was like what Andrew Brietbart said about culture being upstream of politics. I’m no historian or have a classical education, but I believe the thing about what Donald Trump is is a sea change, a preference cascade like nothing can be compared to. I think it is the motive power of desire and hope for something better and larger than ourselves. That scares many shitless, but it also represents something grand and good to many others.… Read more »

LetsPlay
Member
LetsPlay

A palate cleanser is what society needs? No, enema is more like it to flush all the crap from the system and inject large amounts of anti-socialism, cortisteroid, antibacterial type medicines that kill off this virulent stuff. No I vote for “we have already left Terra firma and gravity is in control.” Where we land nobody knows but it will be a hard landing.

Drake
Guest
Drake

I was a history major and usually have a good historical analogy for a given situation. I’ve got nothing for where we are right now. It does give me an unsettling feeling there may be a cliff right around the next bend.

Thud
Guest

That cliff came closer in Dallas last night.

Casius Lucius
Guest
Casius Lucius

Obama has his legacy now. What ever chances Hilary might have had before Dallas, are all ashes now. Time to start repatriating the savages back to mother Africa,

Notsothoreau
Guest
Notsothoreau

I think there are at least three good reasons why Trump was chosen. A successful Repub candidate would need to be heard without help from the MSM. Trump is the only candidate capable of that. Trump is the only candidate that is not politically correct. People are tired of monitoring every word that comes out of their mouths. People want to have some hope again. After 8 years of Obama, it seems like things can only get worse. And we could throw in that people are tired of being lectured. I used to marvel at stories about the country before… Read more »

James Hall
Guest
James Hall

So your three reasons are: Trump is independent of the main stream media Trump is not politically correct Things can’t get any worse after Obama Is that what you’re saying? Because first of all, I don’t believe the main stream media is in anybody’s pocket. Is so happens, by the way, that Trump has definitely dominated the main stream media for the last twelve months. There’s no doubt about that. Secondly, politically correct speech implies avoiding offence. What constitutes offence? If your beliefs constitute offence than you should re-evaluate what you believe. It’s called growing up. And finally, I wasn’t… Read more »

Dan Kurt
Member

“Things were worse before Obama.” James Hall

Avoid taking a toke before commenting, please!

Dan Kurt

James Hall
Guest
James Hall

Get your head out of your ass and tell me how things are worse today than they were when Bush was president. Go on, try not to bust a nut using your “brain”! Tell me how things are worse today!

notsothoreau
Guest
notsothoreau

You only go back to Bush? Child, I was in the Bay Area during the 60s and early 70s. So yeah, it was worse and it will get worse. Was talking to folks about the debates at one point and they went over all the responses. THEY DIDN’T MENTION CRUZ! They’d actually forgotten about him. That’s what happens when you can be shut down by the media. You must not watch as much of the MSM as I do. And they are most definitely not objective. http://ijr.com/2014/10/186620-6-white-house-network-news-relationships-will-make-shake-head-media-bias/ Political correctness means that we can’t acknowledge the threat from radical Islam. We… Read more »

LetsPlay
Member
LetsPlay

Why waste your effort on this clown? He is obviously brain dead anyway.

James LePore
Guest

A Hilary win would lead to another fifty years of the 1960’s, slow national suicide. What follows a Trump win? I don’t have a prediction, but I do know that progressives are very, very nasty and will do everything in their considerable power to undermine or co-opt him. If the Dirt People stick with him and if he doesn’t betray them we might have the break from the past you mention.

James Hall
Guest
James Hall

Slow national suicide? What do you mean by that? The 1960s saw the emergence of civil rights, the peace movement, feminism, and environmentalism. Is that what you mean?

Shelby
Guest
Shelby

You just named the four horses of the apocalypse. All four completely misused and abused programs. Not to mention the total ruination of women. Don’t get me started. At any rate, why don’t you find yourself another country?

James Hall
Guest
James Hall

Would you care to elaborate? Go on, enlighten us about the total ruination of women! This I gotta hear!!!

notsothoreau
Guest
notsothoreau

Okay. Giving women the vote seems to have been a mistake. Convincing women that murdering their unborn child is great was a mistake. Telling women that there is nothing more wonderful than having a job was a mistake.

Lorenzo
Guest
Lorenzo

As always with progressive initiatives, look at the results, Mr. Hall, not the intentions. How are race relations these days? How much peace has the peace movement brought us?

James Hall
Guest
James Hall

As compared to the 1960s blacks are no longer subjugated to Jim Crow and most Americans believe Vietnam as a terrible mistake.

james wilson
Guest
james wilson

Very likely most Americans believe that losing a war is a terrible mistake. The power which is capable of sustaining a losing war for ten years is derived from the same power that is required to dictate and enforce Utopian equality: desegregation, integration, affirmative action, affirmatively furthered fair housing, speech codes, and endless government employment. But being a Prog’ you can spit on one and shine the other.

notsothoreau
Guest
notsothoreau

That’s because most Americans believe what the MSM told them. Just like they believed we lost at Tet. Yes, Jim Crow was a terrible time. We have a black President now, so maybe it’s time we move on. I am tired of being told that I am personally responsible for slavery. A lot of white men died to end slavery in this country. It is too bad that folks are not concerned about the slavery still carried on in much of the world.

Dan Kurt
Member

re: “The 1960s saw the emergence of civil rights, the peace movement, feminism, and environmentalism.” James Hall

1) “civil rights” redefinition in 1960s: Black Privilege, Quotas, Affirmative Action;

2) “the peace movement” definition: Dope, Sex, Devolution;

3) “feminism” in 1960s: Abortion, future cat ladies, sluts on parade;

4) “environmentalism” in 1960s: Bambism combined with sentimental science–Greenism like a watermellon is green on the outside and red on the inside.

What you are praising has been a march into decadence.

Dan Kurt

Shelby
Guest
Shelby

There you have it. Well put. I’ve nothing else to say. Thank you.

James LePore
Guest

Exactly.

notsothoreau
Guest
notsothoreau

Oh, you mean the rise of the Social Justice Warriors? We went from rights to privileges. The peace movement was a bunch of folks that didn’t want to get drafted. Feminism lead to the Mommy State. And please don’t talk to me about the benefits of environmentalism as I am personally doing battle with the eco-Nazis in my state.

LetsPlay
Member
LetsPlay

Yeah. Just guessing but probably around the time you were born. A real asshat.