Mysticism & The Benedict Option
31 minutes ago
I have seen, over and over, how a Secretary of Defense gets set up by the bureaucracy just, like the Generals set up Obama. Also, when serving as low ranking officer on the Air Staff, I saw many cases where lower ranking generals using the same tactics to set up senior generals, especially the AF Chief of Staff -- who was always considered the least informed guy in the room. If fact, I was once ordered by a two star general to lie to a three star general [Wheeler note: Spinney did not also say that he refused]. Colonels are always trying to maneuver generals into promoting their agendas. This is the way the real world operates, and the name of the game in this kind of staff work is always the same: remove all reasonable alternatives to your agenda to insure the decision goes your way. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.
The Pentagon is a rat's nest of military-industrial factions, factions inside factions, and ever shifting alliances -- all competing with each other. The information game is easily played at all levels -- which is one reason why this behaviour is so intractable. Mafias inside the AF are hosing each other as well as the AF Chief of Staff, ditto for the Army and the Navy, the different services are hosing the Secretary of Defense as well as each other; the Secretary of Defense is hosing the President. All are working the press and the Congress ... this is going on all the time at all levels, all the time. It is simply the human condition in large government bureaucracies where billions of dollars are at stake, and leaders ignore it at their peril. .
The key to playing this game successfully is to make a leader dependent on formal communications channels and the chain of command, then you can use the bureaucracy to filter what flows up to him/her. This is known as the mushroom treatment -- keeping the boss in the dark and feeding him/her bullshit. Savvy leaders understand this and understand that trying to stop this kind of behaviour is futile. To avoid being trapped, they must take proactive action to let the sun shine in by opening up other pathways for he information to flow in.
The only way a leader, whatever his level in the bureaucratic hierarchy, can do this is to carefully cultivate alternative informal back channel communication loops to trusted people scattered throughout the lower echelons of his organization. By discretely accessing a multiplicity of views, as well than bureaucracy's preferred solution, a leader can determine when he is getting the mushroom treatment, and more importantly, gain the leverage needed to pry open the door to real alternatives. The author Robert Coram, in Boyd: the Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War, has an excellent discussion of how back channels worked in the Air Force and the Office of the Secretary of Defense during the Light Weight Fighter and A-X debates in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as well as in the strategy development for the first Iraq War in 1991.
Back channel access to alternative views also gives a leader leverage over his subordinates. Once his subordinates appreciate that they can not control all the information flowing into their boss's brain, the game opens up and the leader can do some broken field running. Indeed, a subtle leader quickly learns that the best results often occur when he makes it clear he knows when subordinate is setting him up by tailoring the information, but chooses to give the subordinate a second chance (in bureaucratic jargon, this is known as appealing to his patriotism). That subordinate will never forget the experience, particularly if the leader has already established his cojones with a couple of ruthless well-timed career executions for similar behaviour.
Of course, the subordinate leaders in a bureaucratic hierarchy hate back channel information loops, because it undermines their power to manipulate their boss. They will do everything in their power to snuff it out and maneuver their boss back in the dark room where they can resume feeding him bullshit. That is why a leader must exhibit subtle discretion; opacity is essential for this kind of operation to work over the long term.
It is easy for Pfaff to say Obama's hands were tied by the generals, but that is not the whole story. The mushroom treatment will not stop until Obama realizes he set himself up it by placing careerist sharks and professional bureaucratic apparachiks in the key subordinate national security positions without setting up compensating channels of information.
A nice rendition and great setting. The music is actually by Nikolai Kedrov, Sr (1871-1940). This arrangement of the Church Slavonic 'Pater noster' was made famous in the West by Sergei Jaroff's Don Cossack Choir in the 1930s and is a staple of Slavic Orthodox choirs worlwide.
We have come to accept that Conservatism in America means fidelity to the founding principles of America, particularly those embodied in our basic documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Taking each in turn, it’s most obviously the case that the Declaration is at the very least problematically in any way compatible with conservatism, and even the Constitution contains elements that were worrisome to a more conservative party in American politics at the time of its ratification. The Declaration is our nation’s work of high philosophy, a distillation of Lockean principles deriving from his Second Treatise on Government. Yet, thinkers from Edmund Burke to Russell Kirk have shown the deeply anti-conservative bases of the social contract theory of Lockean (and Hobbesian) origin, one that is premised upon a conception of human beings as naturally “free and independent,” as autonomous individuals who are thought to exist by nature detached from a web of relationships that include family, community, Church, region, and so on. The Lockean logic subjects all human relationships to radical scrutiny, valorizing choice and voluntarism as the sole basis of legitimacy in any human bond. This logic radically destabilizes all existing ties, making individual calculation the primary basis on which to assess the legitimacy and claims of any association. This logic not only places the polity under its legitimizing logic, but all traditional relations, even finally the family itself. The logic used to justify America’s break with England worked like a steady solvent throughout its history, first detaching people’s allegiances from communities, from Churches, then from the individual States, and finally today – among the vanguard, the enlightened elite – from the nation and from the family alike. Today’s conservatives in most cases see this as a step too far, yet they have generally signed on in support of the philosophy that led to this culmination of the Lockean project.
Conservatives today see the Constitution as the more conservative, even stabilizing document, giving form and shape to a limited government of enumerated powers, divided powers and the federated sharing of powers. Today conservatives assign blame to the intervention of 19th-century Progressives – thinkers like John Dewey and Herbert Croly – for the evisceration of the Founder’s 18th-century sober wisdom. They see particularly the influx of foreign contaminants – in the form of progressive German philosophy inspired by the likes of Kant and Hegel – as the source of the corruption of the Constitution. They seek its restoration to its original form, the original understanding of the Framers.
Brooding above all this is the 330-foot tower of Liverpool Cathedral, which unlike its older brother cathedrals is one of the very few built specifically as an Anglican building. The others, of course, were originally Roman Catholic, though I would say they embodied a very different (and more English) form of Roman Catholicism from the rather Italianate one which has been dominant in the English RC church since it was re-established here in the 19th century.Liverpool Cathedral
This is most definitely a modern building in that it was constructed using modern techniques, designed by men familiar with modern engineering and architectural precepts. I doubt if its enormous Gothic arches could have been achieved by the builders of the middle ages, though I may be wrong.
But it is also entirely within the tradition of English cathedral building - the unique version of church architecture which grew up here, through Early English, Decorated and Perpendicular styles. Its size is greatly moving, both seen from a distance and close to. It is a work of considerable majesty and power, and if you are touched at all by buildings, it will affect you as soon as you see it, and draw you towards it.
And it does not in any way disappoint. The quality and richness of its sculpture, the purity and subtle colours of the stained glass windows, the astonishing perspectives which suddenly open up before the visitor, are all equal, in my view, to those to be found in much older churches. Giles Gilbert Scott, the architect, was himself a Roman Catholic, and so I think rather thoughtfully conscious of the difference between his tradition and the Anglican - and of the things they have in common. The Lady Chapel, much more ornate than the rest of the cathedral and a particularly tranquil and comforting space, is supposed to be what Scott intended the whole building to be like, and in some ways I wish he had managed to achieve this.
But the more austere character of the main part of the building is just as easy on the heart, and (though I personally think the tea-room should be separated from the main body of the church, and deplore the neon sign above the West Door) the visitor goes away more thoughtful and better than he was when he arrived, which is all you could ask for.
The amazing thing is that somehow this Edwardian project, conceived when the Church of England was still full of authority, dignity and grandeur, managed to survive essentially unchanged well into the second half of the 20th century, despite war, inflation and the receding tide of faith. What a stroke of providence that it did.
Compare and contrast the Church of England's rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral after its destruction in World War Two, which despite great efforts always seems to me to be a failed mixture of more or less Godless modern architecture and religious themes. The surviving spire of the original church next door only serves to emphasise what was lost, and what late 20th-century man lacked the conviction to recreate.
And also look at the other end of Hope Street, at the Roman Catholic Liverpool Cathedral. This too was intended to be a majestic and astonishing building. The (Protestant) architectural genius Edwin Lutyens proposed a mighty basilica, more or less Byzantine but with a giant dome - which would have been a worthy partner to its Anglican brother church further along the same ridge. Look up the original designs to see what was lost. You will have to go to New Delhi to see anything comparable, in Lutyens's superb Indian government quarter, built to survive for centuries to come and still rather embarrassingly speaking of British Imperial Power in the heart of independent India.
But war and lack of funds, together - I suspect - with a feeling that the Lutyens design was just too conservative and overpowering for the new world that began in the 1960s led to a radical change of plan. On top of Lutyens's crypt, Sir Frederick Gibberd was commissioned to build a strange circular funnel, more fitted to guitars and folk masses than to the solemnity of the old church.
It could easily have been the other way round. In this comparison, not sectarian but between the preserved spirit of a departed age and the unwise welcome of the spirit of the new age, we can see in one upward glance from the Mersey how far we have sunk thanks to progress.
These two buildings - one rooted in centuries of worship and reverence, the other conceived by men who thought we could dispense with the past - together make one of the great sights of our time. Can anyone look at it and say that the last hundred years have been all gain, and no loss?
Building Community Resilience
But in communities everywhere, you’ll find people who are working instead to bring people together. They are building their own resilience, and that of their families and communities, so they are better able to withstand the hardships that are already here and those that may be coming. These are not futile attempts to bring back a way of life that is on its way out. Nor is this the bunker mentality of survivalists who look to save themselves regardless of what happens to others. Instead, these are creative, common-sense, low-tech approaches to meeting people’s needs now while planting the seeds of a more sustainable world for everyone.
Food is the most popular example. Across the country, a local food movement has taken off. More and more people are planting backyard gardens, building greenhouses, raising chickens and bees, and starting farmers markets—not just because fresh and local is delicious and cool. These efforts are, in some places, a response to the lack of fresh and healthy food in urban and rural “food deserts.” Food self-reliance is one way people are seeking security and community in an uncertain world.
Those looking for a more direct response to the dual crises of climate change and peak oil are turning to the Transition Town movement. Started by Rob Hopkins, a permaculture activist in the United Kingdom, this movement has spread to hundreds of communities in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, South Africa, Spain, and Sweden, and more than 70 communities in the United States (where hundreds more are, in Transition parlance, “mulling” it over). People are joining who might not have signed up for an environmental or social justice project, but do want to build greater resilience to make it through tough times. Each Transition initiative is autonomous; each is engaged in studying what it means to move to a post-petroleum world; and most are creating spaces for skill-sharing, food production, and various experiments in resilience.
Other efforts do not explicitly link themselves to concerns about peak oil and climate change. But the goals of community resilience and a sustainable future are often in the background as people start up bicycle repair co-ops, neighborhood energy projects, building materials re-use centers, DIY skill-sharing gatherings, swap meets, and eco-villages. Like Transition initiatives, these projects meet immediate needs, raise spirits, and increase people’s chances of thriving during hard times.
Does working locally mean giving up on national policy change?
Community resilience projects can actually help build the political will to move society in more sustainable directions. They remind us that we can make history—starting where we live—and not just be subjected to the decisions of those in power.
As we learn to work together, learn what works, and learn that we have power, we are better able to insist on larger-scale change.
And we need that political clout to divert highway dollars to bicycle paths and efficient mass transit, and to put a halt to sprawl and build smart, walkable communities instead. We may even be able to bring back the American can-do spirit that made that moon shot possible. The new Apollo Alliance aims at making the transition from oil-addicted to clean and sustainable through massive investment in clean energy, green jobs, and energy efficiency.
I wonder how others would respond to Berry’s approach to “knowledge,” and the role which local human knowledge can play, should play, but often doesn’t play, in keeping the land community (which is all of us, in our respective places) healthy. On the one hand, Berry treats knowledge as something best recognized as limited, beyond our grasp, and therefore humbling: we should approach our ecosystem with a sense of our ignorance, and approach cautiously most scientific, technological, or economic enterprises as a result. But on the other hand, it is, in fact, “knowledge” in the most common-sensical use of the term, that he speaks of: we have a need to know–to have real practical knowledge–about the soil, about the black willows, about all that begins with the solar power embedded in that which grows and that which we consume. To treat that knowledge casually, or less than holistically, is a sin against the natural world. The student of F.A. Hayek, or other apostles of the unregulated market (including, to a limited degree, Adam Smith himself), would on the contrary argue that the knowledge which Berry speaks of isn’t real, or isn’t relevant, or isn’t obtainable–not in the way he speaks of it, anyway. We can’t know the actual “value” of the soil, or the black willow, or the mountaintop; we can only know (and this only indirectly, through the repeated operations of selling and buying) the price of these goods, and thus their relative (and mostly after-the-fact) value to other operations (commercial fishing, riverside property development, coal production, “environmental” tourism, etc.). Ignorance, in this sense, isn’t humbling, it is empowering: see how much we can do, even given all we don’t know! There is no, or at least not very much, sustainability implied in such a model; it means something can be used up (and perhaps regretted, or expensively repaired later), because their is always something more–more oil, more energy, more willow trees, more land. Berry spoke of how used up Kentucky’s biodiversity had become, and that while there is reason for hope–another lesson of the soil, which receives the seeds and gives them life, year after year: there is always hope–there is also much, much terrible work to be taken up by those who care.