Belmont Club

Reasonably sober

The tax compliance problems of Tom Daschle, Nancy Killifer, Timothy Geithner and Charlie Rangel provide an interesting backdrop to Judea Pearl’s article about the contrast between the idealism of public life and its harsh reality.  Judea Pearl was Daniel Pearl’s father and is dismayed at how cynicism has become the new normal; how even terrorism can be spun into respectable behavior.

Neither he, nor the millions who were shocked by his murder, could have possibly predicted that seven years later his abductor, Omar Saeed Sheikh, according to several South Asian reports, would be planning terror acts from the safety of a Pakistani jail. Or that his murderer, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, now in Guantanamo, would proudly boast of his murder in a military tribunal in March 2007 to the cheers of sympathetic jihadi supporters. Or that this ideology of barbarism would be celebrated in European and American universities, fueling rally after rally for Hamas, Hezbollah and other heroes of “the resistance.” Or that another kidnapped young man, Israeli Gilad Shalit, would spend his 950th day of captivity with no Red Cross visitation while world leaders seriously debate whether his kidnappers deserve international recognition. …

I believe it all started with well-meaning analysts, who in their zeal to find creative solutions to terror decided that terror is not a real enemy, but a tactic. Thus the basic engine that propels acts of terrorism — the ideological license to elevate one’s grievances above the norms of civilized society — was wished away in favor of seemingly more manageable “tactical” considerations.

This mentality of surrender then worked its way through politicians like the former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone. In July 2005 he told Sky News that suicide bombing is almost man’s second nature. “In an unfair balance, that’s what people use,” explained Mr. Livingstone.

Principled liberals are even now beginning to realize that closing Guantanamo Bay may mean more, not less torture and less, not more intelligence.  The real heartache within Judea Pearl’s article is the realization that maybe his son died for a chimera. That despite everything the world continues to turn in its old corrupt way. And the same idea may now be crossing the minds of those who believed that electing Democrats into power would mean cleaner government, world peace and a high moral tone only to realize that maybe Washington is like a softdrink machine which dispenses orange bug juice no matter what buttons you push. In a world where the contents of the bottle remain the same, only the labels matter; there is no substance only style. Hence the political premium on youth, appearance and perfect teeth. Some people know this going in. Customers who visit places of ill repute are resigned to the fact that the ladies therein will lie to him; he’s paying for appearances and not for the fact. Matthew Arnold, who spent a lot of time traveling as an inspector of schools, was the great advocate of reducing our expectations. If man could not reach for the heavens then he should try to reach for the nearest bottle. Arnold wrote

Wandering between two worlds, one dead
The other powerless to be born,
With nowhere yet to rest my head
Like these, on earth I wait forlorn.

And

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

But the problem with Arnold is that despite the evidence for cynicism,  we’re all a little like Rick Blaine. He should have known what was good for him; but if he did, then he’d stick to the basics, take the letters of transit and leave with the girl.

Rick: I stick my neck out for *nobody*!
Major Strasser: What is your nationality?
Rick: I’m a drunkard.
Captain Renault: That makes Rick a citizen of the world.

Unfortunately many of us, like Rick, are lapsed idealists; and many of us suspect that sooner or later we’re going to stand at that airport saying goodbye to the only things we have ever loved in pursuit of a dream. The real reason it’s easy to remember Rick’s speech before the plane takes off is that we knew the words before they were said; before the screenwriter ever conceived them. Some of us are addicted to our dreams; and Arnold should pardon those who reach for the bottle of joy and love and light. Daniel Pearl did what he did; there’s no reason for him to feel guilty that he didn’t cheat at taxes.