Feature articles - Monday, January 14, 2013 15:55 - 0 Comments
GET READY FOR ARMAGEDDON
WHEN AMERICA FALLS, SO WILL WE
Soon after 9/11, Investigate columnist Mark Steyn noted that the West is “sleepwalking to national suicide”. Eleven years on, the edge of the precipice has become clearly visible to those still left with the capacity to read the signs. For everyone else, however, it’s as if they are dancing on the deck of the Titanic, oblivious to the iceberg looming in the darkness. IAN WISHART analyses some of Steyn’s arguments in his latest book, After America: Get Ready For Armageddon
“Even the obscurest sheep farming hamlet in New Zealand is not going to be that secure in the world that’s coming.”
That’s a quote from Mark Steyn, not from his book but from a recent Canadian TV interview. Is there, asked the host, any way of escaping the rapidly approaching fall of Western civilisation, is it time for us all to book one way tickets to places like New Zealand?
Steyn observed that it’s a question he gets asked all the time now: is New Zealand going to be the scene of the last sunset over the West, the final refuge of the civilised world? Is Godzone far enough away to emerge relatively unscathed from the coming storm? Evidently, Steyn thinks not. And if you examine his arguments in After America, it is easy to see why: the story he tells about the United States is also the story of the collapse of New Zealand society. If anything, NZ is the canary in the mineshaft already choking on the fumes.
Steyn’s argument in the book is a fundamentally simple one and to an extent it echoes what I wrote in my 2007 book Eve’s Bite: socialism has managed to become so ingrained in western political and education systems that citizens no longer recognise it, and it is killing our civilisation. Rapidly. It has used populist policies and ideals to conceal its agenda. If ordinary people are no longer educated to detect socialism or understand its dangers, freedom will inexorably be eroded without protest.
Even worse, much of the high school curriculum and certainly much of the tertiary education system has adopted socialist ideals as a worthwhile goal: world peace, a global economy, equality for all, free education, free healthcare, cradle to the grave social welfare. The list goes on and, let’s be honest, who wouldn’t aspire to such lofty ideals?
New Zealanders, who’ve enjoyed a taxpayer funded health system for decades, looked on with bemusement at the debate that ripped America apart over free healthcare recently. Commentators here simply could not believe that Americans could think government-funded healthcare was wrong. Steyn, however, shows that New Zealanders missed the point:
“Government health care is not about health care, it’s about government. That’s why the Democrats spent the first year of a brutal recession trying to ram Obamacare down the throats of a nation that didn’t want it. Because the governmentalisation of health care is the fastest way to a permanent left of centre political culture. It redefines the relationship between the citizen and the state in fundamental ways that make small government all but impossible ever again. In most of the rest of the western world, it’s led to a kind of two party one-party state: right of centre parties will once in a while be in office, but never in power, merely presiding over vast left wing bureaucracies that cruise on regardless. All such ‘technocratic’ societies slide left, into statism and stasis.”
Look at New Zealand politics for a moment. Isn’t Steyn’s criticism a bullseye observation on New Zealand? We have become so used to taxpayer funded healthcare that we don’t realise how it has been used to dominate our lives. Once you allow a government to regulate your health, you are allowing them to regulate your life. If taxpayers are picking up the bill, the taxpayers’ elected representatives assume they have the right to legislate to change your behaviour, to dictate what food you eat, which drink you are allowed and so on.
The argument, that healthcare is expensive and that’s why taxpayers should fund it, is rejected by Steyn:
“Health is potentially a big-ticket item, but so’s a house and a car, and most folks manage to handle those without a Government Accommodation Plan or a Government Motor Vehicles System – or, at any rate, they did in pre-bailout America.”
In New Zealand of course, our State has already grown to include free housing as well for those deemed to be “in need”, with the result that some spend four or five decades living in cheap taxpayer subsidised accommodation.
Mark Steyn observes that America is being split into two groups – the “Conformicrats” and the “Flownovers”. The former, he says, are those either employed by or consulting to the State, or the recipients of welfare benefits or government handouts of some description. The latter are the taxpayers – the genuine working families whose efforts pay the bills but who rarely see the benefits. They are the people who politicians fly over in their trips to and from their photo opportunities.
“In one America,” writes Steyn, “those who subscribe to the ruling ideology can access a world of tenured security lubricated by government and without creating a dime of wealth for the overall economy. In the other America, millions of people go to work every day to try to support their families and build up businesses and improve themselves, and the harder they work the more they’re penalised to support the government class in its privileges.”
“Increasingly, America’s divide is about the nature of the state itself – about the American idea,” continues Steyn. “The Flownover Country’s champion ought, in theory, to be the Republican Party. But, even in less fractious times, this is a loveless marriage. Much of the GOP establishment is either seduced by the Conformicrats or terrified by them, to the point where they insist on allowing the liberals to set the parameters of the debate – on health care, immigration, education, Social Security – and then wonder why elections are always fought on the Democrats’ terms. If you let the left make the rules, the right winds up being represented by the likes of Bob Dole and John McCain, decent old sticks who know how to give dignified concession speeches.
“If you want to get rave reviews for losing gracefully, that’s the way to go. If you want to prevent Big Government driving America off a cliff, it’s insufficient.
“The Conformicrats need Flownover Country to fund them. It’s less clear why Flownover Country needs the Conformicrats – and a house divided against itself cannot stand without the guy who keeps up the mortgage payments.”
Across the West, the growth of government has been met with a similar growth in state handouts – what the Left often refers to as “redistribution of wealth”. In 2009, a staggering 47 percent of US households paid no income tax, and 40% of Britons received state handouts of some description.
“If you pay nothing for Government, why would you want less of it?” Steyn asks.
In New Zealand terms, it is even more dramatic. Of the 500,000 families with children in New Zealand, 378,000 of them are receiving government benefits in the form of the Working For Families package. On top of that are households where the main breadwinner is either unemployed or on the Domestic Purposes Benefit. There are 321,000 households (including single people) receiving unemployment, sickness or DPB benefits, so it is clear that a large chunk of New Zealand is now dependent on the State for money in some way.
Those figures represent a large chunk of voters who can be guaranteed to vote for the political party least likely to remove their “entitlements”, which in turn heavily favours either left wing parties, or right-wing parties prepared to tolerate the continuation of “entitlements”.
The problem for New Zealand and the wider West is that the funding for the entitlements can only come from taxes or offshore borrowing.
“Every dollar in Obama’s ‘stash’ comes from me, you, or the Chinese Politburo,” notes Mark Steyn. “If you fall into the taxation category and you’re stuck with the tab for Obama’s stash, you’re not only paying for groups that get a better hearing in Washington, but ensuring that the socioeconomic conditions of the republic will trend, mercilessly, against you.
“The small business class – men and women in unglamorous lines of work that keep the Flownover Country going – are disfavoured by the Conformicrats. They are occasionally acknowledged by our rulers with rhetorical flourishes – ‘tax cuts for working families’ – but on closer inspection these ‘tax cuts’ invariably mean not reductions in the rate of income seizure but a ‘tax credit’ reimbursed from the seizure in return for you living your life the way the government wants you to, and expanding the size of the dependent class.
“The short history of the post-war western democracies is that you don’t need a president-for-life if you’ve got a bureaucracy-for-life…thus, America in the twenty-first century – a supposedly centre-right nation governed by a left-of-centre political class, a lefter-of-centre judiciary, a leftist-of-centre bureaucracy, all of whom have been educated by a lefterooniest-of-all academy.”
Once again, it’s depressingly too easy to draw comparisons between the socialisation of America and what has already happened in New Zealand.
American national debt now stands at US$200,000 per person…or a million US dollars for a family of five. As Steyn puts it, “there isn’t enough money on the planet to bail out the US.” New Zealand’s total overseas debt, including private borrowing as well as Government borrowing, is in the region of $264 billion, meaning every man, woman and child in New Zealand would have to find NZ$66,000 each to pay back New Zealand’s total indebtedness, or $330,000 for a family of five. There goes the mortgage.
When foreign investors start calling in their loans as the world economy collapses, they’ll put pressure on NZ banks who will in turn put pressure on you, their customers. In the event that a New Zealand bank begins to test its financial viability limits, the Reserve Bank has this month approved its new OBR – open bank resolution scheme – which will see customers’ savings accounts raided without warning overnight with “haircuts” – a quaint word that means if you have $10,000 in your savings or cheque account on a Thursday night, you might wake up on Friday morning and find only $5,000 left, with no hope of getting your money back. It will have been taken by ANZ/BNZ/Westpac/Kiwibank or whoever (with Government approval) to pay off the bank’s debts, on the basis that bank customers should bear some responsibility for bank losses. Woe betide you if you happen to be the unfortunate sap who has just sold your house and the proceeds are sitting in the bank on that particular night – you might lose darn near all of it. (You can read more on this in the book Daylight Robbery)
In After America, Steyn covers off the role of China, which currently holds vast swathes of US and New Zealand debt. The interest payments alone that the US is required to make each year will soon be more than the annual budget of the entire Chinese military. China, says Steyn, is making good use of the interest payments to fund a wide range of operations against Western targets:
“In recent years, Beijing has been engaged in widespread intellectual-property theft and industrial espionage against the West; attempted multiple cyber-attacks on America’s military and commercial computer systems [and those of the NZ Government], blinded US satellites with lasers; supplied arms to the Taliban; helped North Korea deliver missiles to Iran and Pakistan; assisted Tehran with its nuclear programme; and actively cooperated in a growing worldwide nuclear black market.
“In response, American ‘realists’ keep telling themselves: Never mind, economic liberalisation will force China to democratize. Lather, rinse, repeat.”
It’s a similar sentiment to those of New Zealand commentators, so fixated on the free trade deal with China that the political implications are lost on them.
It is not just the geopolitical war that the West is losing, argues Steyn, however. The reason we are losing, he says, is because we have lost our mojo. Once upon a time, western civilisation stood for certain values. Now, he says, we stand for nothing and are prepared to fight for nothing.
As exhibit A, he draws on the case of Marc Lepine Gharbi in Montreal, who – armed with a gun – walked into a local polytech and ordered all the men to leave a particular classroom. The men meekly “obeyed, and abandoned their female classmates to their fate – an act of abdication that would have been unthinkable in almost any other culture throughout human history. The ‘men’ stood outside in the corridor and, even as they heard the first shots, they did nothing. And, when it was over and Gharbi walked out of the room and past them, they still did nothing. Whatever its defects, Canadian manhood does not suffer from an excess of testosterone.”
Fourteen female students lay dead. Fourteen more were wounded to varying degrees.
Contrast modern manhood with the Titanic, says Steyn, and the 1912 disaster saw most of the women and children saved while the majority of men perished. Forget the film, he says, where artistic licence turned the men into cowards for the sake of Hollywood’s agenda; as even Wikipedia notes: “A disproportionate number of men—over 90% of those in Second Class—were left aboard because of a “women and children first” protocol followed by the officers loading the lifeboats.”
In modern ship disasters, there is no such chivalry present.
“Today, in what Harvey Mansfield calls our ‘gender neutral society’, there are no social norms,” says Steyn. “Eight decades after the Titanic, a German-built ferry en route from Estonia to Sweden sank in the Baltic Sea. Of the 1051 passengers, only 139 lived to tell the tale. But the distribution of the survivors was very different from that of the Titanic. Women and children first? No female under fifteen or over sixty-five made it. Only five percent of all women passengers lived. The bulk of the survivors were young men. Forty-three percent of men aged 20 to 24 made it.”
Cut forward to the 2012 sinking of the Italian cruise liner Costa Concordia, where even the captain fled the ship leaving women and children to their fate, and you can see the rot has well and truly set in.
At its most basic level, the protection of women and children is the protection of the future workforce – the future taxpayers – of a civilisation. The world learnt, at massive cost, what happens when youth die en masse, as happened in both world wars. It leaves a massive gap with enormous social implications. While tragedies like shipwrecks are few and far between and of no statistical consequence to each generation, the attitudes shown in those disasters nonetheless speak volumes about the underlying morals and ideals of each generation. Courage under fire, or every rat for himself?
In a time of conflict, would we man up or cut and run? What are we really made of, these days?
Sixty years ago, after the war, Hayek wrote a list of the attributes that made Britain, whatever her faults, stronger than many other cultures. Mark Steyn found the rot had claimed most of those attributes.
“Within little more than half a century, almost every item on the list had been abandoned, from ‘independence and self reliance’ (40% of Britons receive state handouts) to ‘a healthy suspicion of power and authority’ – the reflex response now to almost any passing inconvenience is to demand the government ‘do something’, the cost to individual liberty be damned.
“In Britain, everything is policed except crime. The government funded National Children’s Bureau has urged nursery teachers and daycare supervisors to record and report every racist utterance of toddlers as young as three. Like, what?
“Well, if children ‘react negatively to a culinary tradition other than their own by saying Yuk,’ that could be a clear sign that they’ll grow up to make racist remarks that could cause distress…Makes a lot of sense to get all their names in a big government database by pre kindergarten.”
The more powerful the State becomes, the more expensive it becomes to feed, and the more oppressive it gets. The old adage, give them an inch and they’ll take a mile, was never more apt than when applied to the State.
How did we let it reach the point where democracy’s light is now dimly flickering in an increasingly totalitarian West? The Roman satirist Juvenal coined the phrase “bread and circuses” to describe the superficial distractions Rome used to keep its citizens distracted and compliant. In modern times, argues Steyn, it’s sex:
“The wreckage is impressive. The Sexual Revolution was well-named: it was a revolt not just against sexual norms but against the institutions and values they supported; it was part of an assault against any alternatives to government, civic or moral. Utopianism, writes the philosopher Roger Scruton, is ‘not in the business of perfecting the world’ but only of demolishing it: ‘The ideal is constructed in order to destroy the actual’.
“Who needs families, or marriage, or morality? Who needs nations, especially nations with borders? We’ll take a jackhammer to the foundations of functioning society and proclaim paradise in the ruins.”
Social liberalism, the let-people-do-what-they-want line of thinking, has become so ingrained that politicians today are falling over themselves to utterly redefine or throw out moral codes that have been with humanity for thousands of years. It is, says Steyn, a race to the bottom.
“ ‘Moderate’ Republicans such as Arnold Schwarzenegger like to boast that they’re fiscal conservatives and social liberals. But the social liberalism always ends up burying the fiscal conservatism. As Congressman Mike Pence put it, ‘To those who say we should simply focus on fiscal issues, I say you would not be able to print enough money in a thousand years to pay for the government you would need if the traditional family collapses.’
“But the collapse of the traditional family is already well advanced – and as part of a conscious Big Government strategy…Big Government’s bias against marriage and family isn’t an unforeseen quirk of the tax code. It’s in logical, strategic support of its mission – to expand government and diminish everything else. How’s it going? Well, 40 percent of American children are now born out of wedlock. A majority of Hispanic babies are born to unmarried mothers. So are 70 percent of black children.”
Since Steyn first published those figures, they’ve worsened. A new study this year shows nearly two thirds of babies born to Generation Y – American mothers aged 30 or under – are born out of wedlock. You might think it reflects pop-culture and a more easy-going attitude to parenting, but in fact the statistics show a massive breakdown around social class. Wealthier or better educated women are more likely to wait until marriage before having children. A staggering 92% of women with university degrees fall into this category, against only 43% of women whose highest education was high school.
‘Marriage has become a luxury good,’ Frank Furstenberg, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the Times.
The results carry concerning consequences, with researchers finding children born out of wedlock are more likely to struggle in school or suffer emotional and behavioural problems.
Susan L. Brown from Bowling Green State University found that children born to married couples, on average, ‘experience better education, social, cognitive and behavioural outcomes’.
In other words, no matter what the lobbyists tell you, children born to married couples do better in life. If true, then that explains our rapid slide.
In 1968, 87% of New Zealand babies were born to married couples. By 2008, only 52% of babies were born in wedlock – 48% were to unmarried mothers. Across the ethnic divide, the price of social breakdown and free love can be easily seen: In 1968, 72% of Maori births were to married couples. In 2008, only 22% were. The rise of the Maori Renaissance has coincided with a complete family breakdown in Maoridom. For Pakeha, 89% of babies in 1968 were born to married mothers. By 2008, that figure had dropped to 65%.
“Entire new categories of crime have arisen in the wake of familial collapse,” says Steyn, “like the legions of daughters abused by their mum’s latest live-in boyfriend. Congressman Pence’s doomsday scenario is already here: millions and millions of American children are raised in transient households and moral vacuums that make not just social mobility but even elemental character formation all but impossible.”
In the American city of Detroit, civilisational collapse is visible on virtually every street. Grand hotels and buildings constructed in motor city last century now lie empty and in ruins. Why? Part of the reason lies in those “entitlements” we talked about earlier. Union muscle negotiated some great perks in motor city. General Motors employs 96,000 people, but provides health benefits to a million people, Steyn points out. “General Motors, like the other two geezers of the Old Three, is a sprawling retirement home with a small money-losing auto subsidiary…Faced with a US automobile industry that so overcompensates its workers it can’t make a car for a price anybody’s willing to pay for it, the President handed over control to the very unions whose demands are principally responsible for that irreconcilable arithmetic.”
It can’t last. Bailouts and quantitative easing merely delay the ultimately unavoidable.
“In once functioning parts of Africa, civil war, a resurgent Islam, and other forces have done a grand job of reversing all the progress of the twentieth century. But the deterioration of Sierra Leone or Somalia is as nothing compared to the heights from which Detroit has slid.
“Entire blocks are deserted, and the city is proposing to turn commercial land back into pasture – on the unlikely proposition that attracting Michiganders to graze Holsteins between crack houses will lead to urban renewal…
“And the physical decay is as nothing to the deterioration of human capital: 44 percent of adults in the city have a reading comprehension below Grade Six level. Or to put it another way: nearly half the grown-ups in Detroit could not graduate from elementary school. And, believe me, what Sixth Grade requires of American 12 year olds is no great shakes.
“According to Time magazine, ‘the estimated functional illiteracy rate in the city limits hovers near 50 percent’. With that pool of potential employees, why would anybody start a business in Detroit? What could you hire people to do? Detroit did this to itself.”
In a chilling example of where America is heading, Steyn quoted from an email written by Detroit School Board president Otis Mathis, full of spelling and grammatical mistakes. Nonetheless, he’s the head of the city’s education system. He then contrasted it with a letter written by Jack the Ripper’s first victim, 43 year old prostitute Mary Anne Nichols back in 1888 – the year of her murder. It was word perfect.
Nichols, says Steyn, was born in 1845, three decades before universal primary schooling was introduced to Britain. Yet, “the correspondence of an uneducated domestic servant in and out of workhouses and prostitution is nevertheless written with better expression, better spelling, better punctuation and, indeed, more human feeling that the president of the School Board in a major American city.”
Significantly, Detroit education boss Otis Mathis not only graduated from high school – he has a university degree as well. So much for taxpayer-funded education systems.
Detroit is not a city on its own in the US. Increasingly, sliding literacy standards are matched by a slide in morality and a rise of the dog-eat-dog mentality, coupled with a big rise in state dependency. America is already US$16 trillion in debt. Mark Steyn’s conclusion is inescapable: in the not too distant future, the number will be up, the lights will go out. He even foresees a breakup of the United States into smaller groupings of like-minded states, much as the Soviet Union fragmented into different countries.
That Canadian TV interview we opened with is appropriate to close on:
INTERVIEWER: “Last question, Mark. I’ve had multiple people in just the last few days mention that they’re considering what other countries they might move to. This isn’t an “Obama won, I want to leave thing.” It’s people who think America is headed towards bankruptcy in the next couple of decades and they’re afraid to get stuck here after the country completely falls apart. What do you think about that?”
STEYN: “I think, for example, if you look at what we were saying earlier about America being the reserve currency, at some point you have to figure that a combination of circumstances would result in the rug being pulled out from under the U.S. dollar. At that point, there is nothing holding us up and we could be dropping way down to, you know, Zimbabwe type levels. If you happen to be sitting on a savings account, if you happen to have a modest house on a small lot and you think your modest house and your savings account are enough to see you through to the end of your days, you’re in for a huge shock because you’ll find your house is worthless and your savings account is worthless. You’re going to have to load up the wheelbarrow to buy the quart of milk.
“I understand people are thinking like that because I get a lot of mail like that saying, “Where can I flee to?” Do you recommend New Zealand or this kind of thing? I spend a lot of time in Bermuda because I happen to like it and if you had to pick somewhere to hole up, a small civilized British colony with a temperate climate, 1,000 miles from anything bad is a great place to go. I noticed Bermuda already has had a lot of wealthy Americans coming in and buying up old estates and things. But, there is not going to be any place to flee. In the end, they’ll come for Bermuda, in the end they’ll come for Monte Carlo, and in the end you’ll be in Switzerland and they’ll come for you there because America is the order maker on the planet and when America goes, eventually as agreeable as Bermuda is, it slides in, and it takes Bermuda down in its wake. So this is the hill to die on.
“One of the greatest lines I get told by so-called moderate Republicans about almost anything you talk about is always, “This isn’t the hill to die on. This isn’t the hill to die on, this isn’t the hill to die on.” You have this conversation with them for two hours and you realize you’re already 15 hills back from where you were. This, America, is the hill to die on. If you cannot defend and save a half millennium of western liberty and progress and prosperity on this hill, there is no other hill to die on anywhere on the planet.”
- After America: Get Ready For Armageddon by Mark Steyn, Regnery Press, available on Amazon in Kindle or print format