This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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Voting as diversion

One of my early memories related to politics is the Clinton scandal. In fact, that is sort of a symbolic event for people my age. “Formational,” you might say. Think about it: My generation’s initiation into the noble project of democracy was to watch the president be put on trial for receiving fellatio from an intern at work. We got to see the leader of ‘the greatest nation on Earth’ grapple with the various possible meanings of the term ‘sexual relations.’  He did not fare well. I can draw a straight line between that moment and the ‘Obama toilet paper.’ It’s all the same.

Anyway, shortly after that, still during Clinton’s presidency, I also remember watching Iraq get bombed to hell for four days. Everybody was gathered around the television, watching things blow up. “Shock and awe” was mentioned. Ironically, I wasn’t sure who we were trying to awe. From my point of view, the enemy would have to be pretty impressed with us in order to be more impressed than we already were with ourselves. Then someone suggested that the only reason this was happening was because Clinton needed to get his sexual indiscretions out of the limelight for a while.

Now, I’m not saying I buy that explanation. Or at least, I’m certain that Clinton’s scandal wasn’t the sole motivation for the attack. Things are always complex. Nor do I really care enough to research all the deliberations that led up to that decision. What I can say, however, is that if it was true, even partially true, it is completely ‘in character’ for the normal operation of things these days. That’s just how it works around here. Manipulation of the public is necessary due to the nature of election culture. If you agree to vote, in a very real way you are begging to be subjected to manipulations of every kind, non-stop, for as long as you agree to play the game. And, as was the case with the bombing, the most popular kind of diversion you will be subjected to is a conflict of some kind.

G.K. Chesterton said it best, even though he was talking about England:

It is the mark of our whole modern history that the masses are kept quiet with a fight. They are kept quiet by the fight because it is a sham-fight; thus most of us know by this time that the Party System has been popular only in the sense that a football match is popular.[1]

The United States has been at war for 214 of the 236 years since its birth. Say what you want about ‘making the world safe for democracy,’ that’s a bit of a problem. The reason for it might be that America is, as we are told, simply so great that she must spend all of her time defending herself from her numerous and nameless enemies. Maybe so. But there are also other explanations, which are a bit more reasonable, and not nearly so flattering. For example, nothing draws power to the central government like perpetual war.

In the words of James Madison:

In time of actual war, great discretionary powers are constantly given to the Executive Magistrate. Constant apprehension of War, has the same tendency to render the head too large for the body.

And the words of Omer Talon, although older, are equally valid:

War is a monster whom there is a conspiracy not to throttle, so that it may continue always as the opportunity of those who abuse the royal authority.

It is an interesting contradiction that the Conservative Party, which seems to be far more inclined to warfare in its policies, is also the party which professes to be the enemy of big government. You can have war, or you can have small government, but you cannot have both. Republicans have chosen war, and the reason they have chosen it is because they, like their opponents, are concerned primarily with the acquisition of power. The small government thing is just a prop. For a political party, small government can never be a real goal. It can only be a fantasy idea employed to garner support.

In short, war is a great diversion, and elections are simply wars on the small scale. Every time the White House shifts from one party to the other, it has the appearance of a hostile takeover, and it feels like one from the point of view of the voters. Just as, during war, the people identify themselves with the conflict, even if it is halfway across the world, so also they identify with the victories and defeats of their party.

An election is the ultimate sham fight, the ultimate diversion, and through it the American people are allowed to wage a publicly sanctioned war on one another, to say things about their fellows that under any other circumstances would be considered cruel or inappropriate, to openly hate. It is a discharge of pent up emotions that demand release, and the election format ensures that this discharge does not actually harm any of the powers that be. It is a ‘controlled’ release of frustration and violence, like the ancient festivals of Saturnalia.

Each election is a grand project, to be sure, and insanely expensive. But it is worth it, because it ensures that everything continues just as it is, and that those who rule will not be disturbed.

[1] A Short History of England, p.156.

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