The Struggle to Stay Human Amid the Fight

World War I and the adversarial mentality.

It’s the eternal argument. When you are fighting a repulsive foe, the ends justify any means and serve as rationale for any selfishness.

Dax’s struggle is not to change the war or to save lives. That’s impossible. The war has won. The struggle is simply to remain a human being, to maintain some contact with goodness in circumstances that are inhumane.

Disillusionment was the classic challenge for the generation that fought and watched that war. Before 1914, there was an assumed faith in progress, a general trust in the institutions and certainties of Western civilization. People, especially in the educated classes, approached life with a gentlemanly, sporting spirit.

As Paul Fussell pointed out in “The Great War and Modern Memory,” the upper classes used genteel words in place of plain ones: slumber for sleep, the heavens for the sky, conquer for win, legion for army.

The war blew away that gentility, those ideals and that faith in progress. Ernest Hemingway captured the rising irony and cynicism in “A Farewell to Arms.” His hero is embarrassed “by the words sacred, glorious and sacrifice and the expression, in vain.” He had seen nothing sacred in the war, nothing glorious, just meaningless slaughter.

.. European culture suffered a massive disillusion during the conflict — no God, no beauty, no coherence, no meaning, just the cruel ironic joke of life. Cynicism breeds a kind of nihilism, a disbelief in all values, an assumption that others’ motives are bad.

Fussell wrote that the war spread an adversarial mentality. The men in the trenches were obsessed with the enemy — those anonymous creatures across no man’s land who rained down death. “Prolonged trench warfare, whether enacted or remembered, fosters paranoid melodrama,” he wrote.

The “versus habit” construes reality as us versus them — a mentality that spread through British society. It was the officers versus the men, and, when they got home, the students at university versus the dons.

George Orwell wrote that he recognized the Great War mentality lingering even in the 1930s in his own left-wing circles — the same desire to sniff out those who departed from party orthodoxy, the same retelling of mostly false atrocity stories, the same war hysteria. As Christopher Isherwood put it, all the young people who were ashamed of never having fought in the war brought warlike simplicities to political life.

.. Some of the disillusioned drop out of public life, since it’s all meaningless. But others want to burn it all down because it’s all rotten. Moderation is taken for cowardice. Aggression is regarded as courage. No conciliatory word is permitted when a fighting word will do.

Today we face no horrors equal to the Great War, but there is the same loss of faith in progress, the reality of endless political trench warfare, the paranoid melodrama, the specter that we are all being dehumanized amid the fight.

What is the value of boredom in our lives?

Finally, I think what’s important about all this that we’re also coming to understand on a whole new level is that that kind of getting calm inside, that kind of grounding ourselves as we move through the world, as we are not just present to the world, but a presence — in our workplaces, in our families, with strangers, with the people we love, but also the people who drive us crazy — the more calm and grounded and full and whole and conscious our presence can be — that is civilizational work. Especially in a moment like this, where everyone is on edge, and all of our devices of culture — our technologies, but certainly journalism and news and so many of the images that are coming at us — they are designed to put us on edge. The more we can embody the reality that there’s more to us and there’s more to a day, that we are capable of calm presence; of presence; of, also, the joy that can rise up from our deep places that is different from the pleasure of the instant hits — that that is an offering, not just to our own resilience, but to everybody around us, in a way that I don’t think it was a few years ago.

What Trump Doesn’t Get About Conservatism

In Mr. Trump we encounter a politician who uses social media to bypass the realm of ideas entirely, addressing the sentiments of his followers without a filter of educated argument and with only a marginal interest in what anyone with a mind might have said.

.. National identity is the origin of the trust on which political order depends. Such trust does not exist in Libya or Syria. But it exists in America, and the country has no more precious asset than the mutual loyalty that enables the words “we, the people” to resonate with every American, regardless of whether it is a liberal or a conservative who utters them.

.. Those first words of the United States Constitution do not refer to all people everywhere. They refer to the people who reside here, in this place and under this rule of law, and who are the guardians and beneficiaries of a shared political inheritance. Grasping that point is the first principle of conservatism.

.. Our political inheritance is not the property of humanity in general but of our country in particular. Unlike liberalism, with its philosophy of abstract human rights, conservatism is based not in a universal doctrine but in a particular tradition, and this point at least the president has grasped.

.. But as Edmund Burke pointed out in one of the founding documents of modern conservatism, his “Reflections on the Revolution in France,” we must “reform in order to conserve.”

.. In another of conservatism’s founding documents, “The Wealth of Nations,” Adam Smith argued that trade barriers and protections offered to dying industries will not, in the long run, serve the interests of the people. On the contrary, they will lead to an ossified economy that will splinter in the face of competition. President Trump seems not to have grasped this point. His protectionist policies resemble those of postwar socialist governments in Europe, which insulated dysfunctional industries from competition and led not merely to economic stagnation but also to a kind of cultural pessimism that surely goes entirely against the American grain.

.. Conservative thinkers have on the whole praised the free market, but they do not think that market values are the only values there are. Their primary concern is with the aspects of society in which markets have little or no part to play: education, culture, religion, marriage and the family.

.. He is a product of the cultural decline that is rapidly consigning our artistic and philosophical inheritance to oblivion. And perhaps the principal reason for doubting Mr. Trump’s conservative credentials is that being a creation of social media, he has lost the sense that there is a civilization out there that stands above his deals and his tweets in a posture of disinterested judgment.

The secret to Germany’s happiness and success: Its values are the opposite of Silicon Valley’s

a magnetic 38-year-old named Christian Lindner, has openly expressed a desire to shake things up. In an August interview with the Economist, in which he called Germany’s economy “a prosperity hallucination,” Lindner also explained that in his country, “entrepreneurship has long been undervalued … and societies that are prepared to be more daring and have efficient capital markets have overtaken us on this.”

.. The vast majority of Germans don’t want it. For progressive and even centrist Germans, the startup-style definition of Erfolg (or “success”) is utterly incompatible with their values—which do not center on individual wealth, recognition, or even careers.

.. Germany’s cultural mores—which include a vehement defense of the country’s robust social safety net, largely credited for the relatively quick recovery from last decade’s recession—mean it is largely inoculated from the bootstrap fever that has long gripped the US.

.. In an off-script response to a heckler during a speech about startup culture’s positive attitude toward failure, Lindner memorably decried the fact that “people would rather go into public service than start something themselves.” He explained that, “when you’re successful, you end up in the sights of the social-democratic redistribution apparatus, and when you fail you’re sure to be the subject of mockery and derision.”

Lindner was correct on one point: Many Germans would rather go into public service than start a business themselves. But his theory about their motivation is all wrong. Lindner’s country-people simply don’t have the same enchantment with self-made financial success that he does.

.. Thanks in part to a general leftward tilt on economic issues after the student revolutions of 1968, most of them view the collective good, and the comparatively high taxation that accompanies it not as a sacrifice, but as a fundamental component of civilized society.

.. They are largely content with their take-home salaries, but not out of altruism. Rather, they view the role of wealth acquisition and consumerism in a fundamentally different way.

.. To Germans, caution and frugality are signifiers of great moral character. Sure, they favor high-quality consumer goods—but they deliberate on what to buy for years, and expect their possessions to last for decades

.. Moreover, for Germans, a good work-life balance does not involve unlimited massages and free meals on the corporate campus to encourage 90-hour weeks. Germans not only work 35 hours a week on average—they’re the kind of people who might decide to commute by swimming, simply because it brings them joy.

.. And a German wouldn’t be caught tot pounding down a bar or a glass of Soylent to replace a meal

.. just as Christian Lindner is obsessed with making money and driving sports cars, so have Germans been obsessed with making fun of Christian Lindner because they find his thirst for financial success so gauche.