December 11, 2003

The Subconscious Yearning for American Defeat

Roger Simon is on the money (again) with his summation of the American death wish that seems to operate on some subconscious level in much of the American media:

These days the media is referring to our adversaries in Iraq by the seemingly objective term "insurgents," a word Merriam-Webster OnLine defines as

1 : a person who revolts against civil authority or an established government; especially : a rebel not recognized as a belligerent
2 : one who acts contrary to the policies and decisions of one's own political party

Definition 2 does not seem to be relevant, but what about 1? Are the guerrillas in Iraq merely people revolting against civil authority or are they something more specific? According to virtually every report, they are Baathists and their sympathizers, Islamic fundamentalists and their sympathizers or paid thugs working for either or both of the foregoing two groups. So what are they all together? Quite simply they are fascists or at best fascist fellow travelers.

But the media never say the "F" word. They never write the "fascists" did this or that (as they certainly did in other wars). They persist in using the benign "insurgents." Why? I don't want to think that Noah Oppenheim is correct in writing that many in the media quite seriously don't want us to win, but tonight of all nights it seems more likely that could be so. As I type these words at ten p. m. PDT... maybe I missed something... maybe I didn't click far enough... but I see no reports of the large pro-democracy/anti-terror march of Iraqis in Baghdad today in tomorrow's New York Times or Washington Post or in the Los Angeles Times(at least on their websites). Or on the CNN site. Or on MSNBC.... Do you think for one moment that if thousands had been marching for Saddam... for the fascists... excuse me "insurgents"... it wouldn't have been front page news? I don't. What's going on?

One is tempted to say that "God only knows," but that's false. What's going on is a massive, subconscious desire on the part of thousands of our fellow Americans to ensure that America loses -- not only in Iraq, but in the wider First Terrorist War. But why?

The French have an idiomatic phrase nostalgie pour la boue which means, roughly, yearning for the mud. It's a compulsion that comes over people when they have, for complex reasons, a need to immerse themselves in self-degradation. It's usually a mix of drink, drugs, and weird sex until the soul is obliterated by the abused flesh. Most people try this sort of thing a time or few in their youth, but soon grow out of it when time and experience get the upper hand. Others grow out of it via deep psychoanalysis and a few trips to the rehab clinic. Many, however, never kick it and were, in the past, thought of as "perverts" but are now more kindly seen as "differently minded."

A minority of the last group make a career of nostalgie pour la boue and are generally known as "celebrities."

There's a lot of cross-over of all kinds between celebrity culture and media culture. Indeed, at a lot of levels, it is becoming hard to tell them apart. Both live, for the most part, in an insulated bubble that is impervious to moral, psychological, or political change or exacts the penalty of expulsion from the bubble in the event of such change.

I'd like to suggest that there's another kind nostalgie going around in this hybrid culture:nostalgie pour la défaite.

Nostalgie pour la défaite is that state of the soul when an American, who either came of age in the Vietnam era, or who was taught and mentored by a leftist or liberal of that vintage, yearns for the defeat of America. This state is then seen as confirmation that his or her world view and social milieu is the right view and right milieu. To operate otherwise would throw not only all the professional views and actions of the last thirty years into question, but the entire structure of the afflicted personality as well.

An America that is ascendant rather than retiring, an America whose policies are aggressive and not apologetic, is an America they are simply unequipped to inhabit or report on. They have, quite frankly, an empty tool box when it comes to this task and no raw materials with which to build.

American media personalities and American celebrities with nostalgie pour la défaite are derived from decades of beliefs in an America that is best as a "pitiful, helpless Giant." It is literally the only America they know and their entire professional and personal lives, from the New York Times to the Los Angeles Times, from the Hamptons to Beverly Hills are based on this grand assumption. They've had Presidents that, commuting to and from these locales, have confirmed it to them. Their coworkers in their jobs confirm it to them. Their significant others, drawn from the same ranks, confirm it to them. The parties they attend, the awards they give and receive, the places they vacation, the books they read and the films they make and see, all confirm it to them over and over again. It is not only the only America they know, it is the only America they can know.

Anything that confirms the nostalgie pour la défaite is news they can use. Anything that does not, is not, by definition, news at all.

The result is not that they are "bad" Americans. They are simply Americans raised and trained to desire that, in all things, America should lose and become less of an important force in the world. The results of a weaker America do not concern them. It is only important that America remains weak and hamstrung.

What do they propose in its place? The short form for their vision of the future is "an empowered United Nations." At which point they step from nostalgie pour la défaite into nostalgie pour la boue -- the yearning for the mud. In the final analysis, it isn't that big a step.

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Posted by Vanderleun at December 11, 2003 3:28 PM | TrackBack
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Today I read an AP article on the "Iraqi Rebels" that tried to blow up the green zone again. When and how did Sadaam's hit men become "Rebels"?

Posted by: Holly S at December 12, 2003 6:54 AM

A very intelligent analysis but I think you've missed on a point or two. First, what you describe is by definition a "bad American." Yearning for our own defeat constitutes bad.

Secondly, I think the influence of some very dedicated, disciplined cadres is being dismissed. We know that the Soviets and the ComIntern were heavily involved in the US's government, from Harry Hopkins on down, and they had a major influence on our nation, both directly through the government and indirectly through the media and other institutions. They didn't need to have a majority or even a lot of people, they only needed a few working with discipline to influence key decisions.

Just because the USSR has collapsed doesn't automatically mean that these organizations ceased to exist. They may not be Stalinist anymore, but I find it hard to believe that the infrastructure for an ideological zeal for Communism or a Socialist International has vanished and given up on influencing our culture. I think it is clear that many in the media are nudged into getting sympathetic personalities into key positions. It's happened too often in the past for me to believe that it isn't still happening.

Posted by: Mike Rentner at December 12, 2003 7:00 AM

In short, self-flagellation via proxy.

Posted by: Lola at December 12, 2003 7:21 AM

Re: " I don't want to think that Noah Oppenheim is correct in writing that many in the media quite seriously don't want us to win, but tonight of all nights it seems more likely that could be so."
Sadly, Holmes was correct: "How often have I said that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." You are looking at the truth - many in the media quite seriously don't want us to win!

Posted by: Fergus at December 12, 2003 7:23 AM

I find the "obliteration of the soul" reference fascinating. Since your soul can't be completely obliterated, but just ignored, that last bit of guilt and remorse has to be assuaged by associating with people that reinforce your mistaken convictions. This is why the Left is so hostile to religion reminding them of it, even though they try to ridicule religion.

Posted by: Stephen at December 12, 2003 7:47 AM

I think there needs to be more thought put into why people think this way. Is it relativism, collectivism, or a perversion of altruism. I believe it’s mostly the latter. Some people believe that we can never think of ourselves, we must always think of others when acting. And this is highly destructive (read Ayn Rand "For The New Intellectual").
The Left acts altruistically and end up doing bad. The Right acts selfishly and ends up doing good.

Posted by: Patrick at December 12, 2003 10:40 AM

Insightful analysis, which I think, like other commenters above, is missing something as to its causes. There should be less Vietnam and more post-modern spoiledness. The death wish you describe does, after all, apply to the West as a whole, in particular on the European continent. It is interesting that West-hatred in Europe is directed at the United States (and Israel) and self-directed in the United States. I am sure there are cultural differences (Puritanism? Attitudes toward State Power?) that explain this distinction. Still, there is a great deal in common on both sides of the Atlantic in the shared need for spiritual purification through public confession of our evil.

Posted by: Gabriel Gonzalez at December 12, 2003 11:51 AM


The feigned outrage of the French and Germans about being excluded from prime contracts in Iraq strikes me as similar to what a Jewish friend of mine used to call "WASP naivete'." This was the irrational belief that you can be as insulting and disloyal as you like, and not worry about the consequences of having alienated anyone. One could respect people who didn't expect to be included in American largesse, after having attempted to kick us in the privates. But the notion that someone so inclined expects to remain on all invitation lists reflects rather badly on their level of maturity and transparency. In such situatons it becomes important to dose them with a little reality, for their own sake.

They'd no doubt hate themselves a little less if they weren't so chronically self-indulgent. One could make a pretty good argument that Bush is doing the best he can to help them out of the mud.

Posted by: Scott at December 12, 2003 12:35 PM

There's another issue that is very clear from where I sit, surrounded by liberal academics & professionals. Many feel exposed and vulnerable. They feel that by putting ourselves "out there," by getting in the world's face as we have done, we are "asking for it."

We're drawing fire.

The NEW YORKER ran a "Talk of the Town" piece that alluded directly to this feeling. It drew an analogy between George Bush and Gary Cooper in HIGH NOON. "Hawks" had made the connection to HIGH NOON early on, but the NEW YORKER was just getting around to it, and they didn’t like the image of George Bush as Gary Cooper one bit. The NEW YORKER doesn't *want* to be a lone hero! The piece ended with something like this: "Bush is riding alone into the sunset, and taking his country with him."

The related issue is the wish to be liked and respected. Practically everyone I know feels that President Bush has caused Europe to lose affection for us. Since Europe seems to prefer victims to conquerors (I've been told directly, by a major French sociologist, that the French actively prefer victims to non-victims), it’s not illogical for Americans to conclude, consciously or not, that the Europeans will like us better if we lose in Iraq.

I can understand these feelings, but still and all, I don’t get it. I was a liberal Democrat for my entire life, and after 9/11 it was goodbye to all that. (Although I had begun to pull away after I watched liberals react to Lewinsky, Willey, and Broaddrick.)

My own question is a variant on the discussion here. If a neoconservative is a liberal who has been mugged by reality, why do some liberals become neoconservatives while others don’t?

Is it a personality difference? An emotional difference?

Or did the two groups have different reasons for being liberal in the first place?

Posted by: Catherine at December 12, 2003 12:47 PM

Maybe the explanations--in Frog, no less--are a little too sophisticated. These are not sophisticated people. Or rather sophistication for them--and they think they have it--means not the winding, spiraling road to wisdom, which is always an effort, but rather the twisted dodging of intellectual and moral cowards, where what you dodge is yourself.

Why don't they like America? Think of all the ways in which America makes people feel inferior. People who achieve, people who risk, people who fail and try again, people who are--horrors!--rich, people with real talent (no many of those, really), people who consequently are truly powerful without necessarily trying to be, when all they're trying to be is the best they can be.

Think about the above. God, if I were one of the shifty left-wingers I'd be so horrified to find myself somewhere where every place I look there's true bravery and courage, true guts, true effort, true belief in one's own capacity to do what one aims and tries to do, true honor, true honesty, and yes--that pabulum of the left-winger, his/her last refuge of tawdry respectibility, true morality--if I found myself in this really, really bad place, I'd be dying to have all of these people dead, defeated, beaten, run out of town, disgraced, discredited.

And why? Why? You fucker have the nerve to ask me why? Because they make me--they force, they leave me no choice--they make fell inferior. They make me feel like a whiner, a no-account, a coward, an intellectual cheat, a moral failure.

They make me feel like a piece of human shit.

God, you just do not know how I hate successful people!!

Try that one one for size.

Posted by: Michael McCanles at December 12, 2003 12:50 PM


I'm very curious about your observation that "West-hatred in Europe is directed at the United States (and Israel) and self-directed in the United States."

Is this definitely true? You don't see a self-directed West-hatred among European or British elites? (My husband says French academics do not have the same anti-government stance that American professors do, so i think he would certainly agree.)

I'm reading Revel's "Anti-Americanism," an incredible book, and I have to say his perceptions probably coincide with yours. He argues that France as a whole routinely projects its own faults, failings, difficulties, etc. onto America. Even in the midst of French articles that are harshly critical of the government or of French society the writer will say, "We're acting like America!" or "We don't want to be like America!"

Or: "Of course things are much worse in America."

Posted by: Catherine at December 12, 2003 12:59 PM

In Crane Brinton's Anatomy of Revolution he notes that one of the predictive signs of "revolution to come" is alienation and hostility toward the regime from two groups: favored youth and the "intellectuals." Media types are somewhat younger (though not the network news anchors) than those in established careers elsewhere--and "intellectuals" broadly construed would have to include news and opinion media performers.

Posted by: milt rosenberg at December 12, 2003 2:43 PM


Let me shed a little light on your question. From 1967 to 1975 I was an ardent supporter of the communist cause which was goiing to bring happiness to all humanity at the expence of a few fat cats.

Then came the re-education camps - which the commies said weren't going to happen. The boat people. Cambodia - etc. My beliefs were destroyed.

I became over time a Libertarian.

Then came 9/11 and the Libertarian/Socialist Workers Party analysis of foreign policy. I had to leave the Libs too.

What ties all this together is that I can change my world view to accord with the facts. What keeps the rest stuck is the unwillingness to give up their position with family and friends in order to adjust their position. So they don't even look. Why should they. Those around them confirm their world view.

These days even my mother a confirmed Democrat/socialist light is not sure of me. When I say capitalism has done more for the poor than the democrats she gives me these very strange looks.

Ah. Well. For some truth is the most important. For some it is getting along. I'm afraid the getting along crowd is in the majority.

Posted by: M. Simon at December 12, 2003 2:47 PM

The old familiar question. What makes leftists so nutty?

This guy diagnoses Micheal Moore, for one, as a narcissist.

"In the grotesque mind of the narcissist, his punishment is equally his vindication. By being permanently on trial, the narcissist claims the high moral ground and the position of the martyr."

Says it's spreading, too.

Posted by: Brian at December 12, 2003 4:09 PM


My point was that there is a generalized Western death wish, reflected in the question "Why do they hate us?" and how it's answered ("Let us, as we are impure, sympathize, appease, or even join with the fascists attacking us"), that is common to the U.S. and Europe. I consider it a mixture of nihilism and milennarianism, which André Glucksmann has summed up better than I can in Ouest Contre Ouest. I'm not sure if this has been translated. There is a good summary of Glucksmann's book at Innocents Abroad. I think this civilizational death wish is stronger in Europe than in the U.S. - and Glucksmann would definitely agree - but it is basically a post-modern Western phenomenon. It's probably in large part that Europe is politically farther to the "Left" than the United States.

European elites (right and left) and publics are opposing human rights and liberal democracy (i.e., Western values) through appeasement, pandering to simplistic third worldist memes, while at the same time supporting the most brutal and oppressive Third World dictatorships, all in opposition to the U.S., even (or especially) as the latter tries to defend and promote Western (or Europe's original) values. This is disguised by calling racism "anti-racism", humanitarian assistance "oppression", and liberation "occupation". In my view, these inconsistencies are so patent that the failure on the part of the Left in particular to see them I can only describe as "theological".

I don't claim that European nihilism is self-directed, quite the contrary. They've changed the "Why do they hate us?" to "It's not us, it's them!" But the end result is that Europeans are supporting agendas ultimately inimical to promoting, let alone defending, the liberal democratic values on which their own societies are founded. As to French academics' not being anti-government, that goes without saying. Europe, and especially the French, worship the State, which in part explains their instinct to seek collectivist solutions to everything, regardless of externalities. In contrast, Americans are extremely wary of the State, and this attitude is reflected both in the virtual anarchism of extreme libertarians on the right as well as the hate-America anti-imperialists on the left. Europe, and especially the European left as well as far right parties, are actually extremely nationalistic and seek to harness the power of the State to combat impure, demonic external forces (ie, the U.S. and Israel). Could you imagine leftist American and French activists, for example, conducting mass street protests against, say, French imperialism or commercial exploitation in Africa? That would be strange indeed.

Posted by: Gabriel Gonzalez at December 12, 2003 4:34 PM

Understanding the detractors of the American response to an attack upon its existence, which is also an attack upon all Infidels, that is, upon everyone who is not a suicidal-homocidalist, that is, upon nearly everyone in the World, is difficult. I try to explain these detractor phenomena by saying simply that the detractors are unable to know themselves. They are unable to look at themselves by using their own thought processes to see what they are -- not to imply that they are what they have manifested to date, which is a truely sad and frightening mess of dysfunctions, well described in the posts, but rather that if they do have this capacity, it is time to get cracking with it.
People who can look directly at themselves are able to think more clearly because they have thereby found that they really do have profound capacities, the use of which is the "meaning" of life. For such people, the desire to see America [or France] fail, for example, becomes irrelevant to the meaning of life. Why bother with it? Why! Likewise, self-hate, the death wish, and a longing for the mud become visible and functionally less likely to be in control, unless chemicals or depression have taken over. Background impotence is wiped away due to one's awareness of his/her own indigenous powers [free-thought, compassion, self-sacrifice, etc.] so that, yes, we see that there are things really worth dying for [not the 10 billion virgins].
In contrast, I believe the current detractors have nothing worth dying for --nothing. They only ape compassion, IMHO - my apologies to the apes - and pretend concern. Their thought capability is not free [perceptive and creative], but rather ad hoc, sloganistic, and amnestic.
Why the detractors are unable to reflect upon themselves, I don't know. But they must be presumed to have this capacity, thus credited in an optimistic and humane way, while also being held responsible to try to do it, and held responsible, in any case, for what they allege, propose, and embody -- even by attempted psycoanalysis such as that on this thread. I personally remain mystified by these people and have no outside solution for them.

Posted by: Joe Peden at December 12, 2003 10:09 PM

Why the detractors are unable to reflect upon themselves, I don't know.

I suspect because in all cases the belief systems at play are not intended to be scientific or analytical. They are religious. They serve the purposes of spiritual fulfilment, affirmation of absolute truths that by their nature are not susceptible to contrary evidence. They are not intended to be open to introspection, reflection or doubt.

Posted by: Gabriel Gonzalez at December 13, 2003 3:46 AM

To Gabriel I say Amen.

Posted by: Joe Peden at December 13, 2003 6:59 PM

Patrick, you didn't mean it precisely this way but your phrase "a perversion of altruism" is by far the best one to describe "peace activists" who march in favor of preserving a maximally violent, terrorising, and despotic regime.

Posted by: Joshua Scholar at December 13, 2003 11:14 PM

By the way, I was of course refering to the demonstrations in London and SF in favor of terrorism not the ones in favor of freedom that are the subject of this post.

Posted by: Joshua Scholar at December 13, 2003 11:16 PM

As for the wish for America to be an invisible anonymous country like Canada or iceland wasn't irrational in a pre 9/11 world... But faced with a war, you fight or perish and those who study the Middle East and Muslim world know that this war was declared a long time ago - and will eventually become fatal to us if we don't fight it.

You might wish to live in Iceland, but it's too late for that. The other side decided that we are "the enemy" a long time ago. Thank God we have all that extra firepower and expertise in war, so we will be able to win this and offer our grandchildren the safety and prosperity that the Islamofacists and arab nationals would have denied them.

Posted by: Joshua Scholar at December 13, 2003 11:23 PM

I hate making so many posts in a row, but I'm forced to correct a typo that makes a sentence read as a racist screed that I didn't intend.

I meant to type "arab nationalists" not "arab nationals" in that last sentence.


Posted by: Joshua Scholar at December 14, 2003 1:50 AM

If an application is designed well, the reward for users is that they will learn it faster, accomplish their daily tasks more easily, and have fewer questions for the help desk. As a developer of a well-designed application, your returns on that investment are more upgrade revenue, reduced tech support, better reviews, less documentation, and higher customer satisfaction. The rewards of building a good-looking Aqua application are worth taking the extra time.

Posted by: Sander at January 12, 2004 5:36 PM

For example, if you see an AIM window peeking out from behind your browser and you click on it, that window will come to the front, but the main application window will not. The Viewer is another example. The Aqua system of layers works well in many instances, but not in all. Thank goodness that the Dock is always there to come to the rescue. I know that clicking on an application icon in the Dock will always result in not only the application coming to the front, but also any non-minimized windows associated with it. And if the application is active but no windows are open, clicking on the Dock icon should create a new window in that application.

Posted by: Thomasina at January 12, 2004 5:37 PM

Adhere to File Locations. Make sure that when your users save documents, your application knows where to put them and also gives users flexibility.

Posted by: Isaac at January 12, 2004 5:38 PM

Dock Animation. Sometimes animating icons in the dock can be useful in communicating the status of the system or application.

Posted by: Alveredus at January 12, 2004 5:38 PM

Clicking an application in the dock should always bring forward an active window. If the user clicks on an open app's icon in the Dock, the application is active and all unminimized windows come along with it. I have found a few problems with windows behaving independently of their application.

Posted by: Anthony at January 12, 2004 5:38 PM

This is the first thing your users see, and probably the single most important visible part of your application. It is the first chance you have at making an impression and the best chance to help establish your brand.

Posted by: Francisca at January 12, 2004 5:38 PM

For example, if you see an AIM window peeking out from behind your browser and you click on it, that window will come to the front, but the main application window will not. The Viewer is another example. The Aqua system of layers works well in many instances, but not in all. Thank goodness that the Dock is always there to come to the rescue. I know that clicking on an application icon in the Dock will always result in not only the application coming to the front, but also any non-minimized windows associated with it. And if the application is active but no windows are open, clicking on the Dock icon should create a new window in that application.

Posted by: Venetia at January 12, 2004 5:39 PM

You Must Promise. To call your mother, to help old ladies cross the road, and to turn your cell phone off at the movies.

Posted by: Edmund at January 12, 2004 5:39 PM

So far in these articles, I have only dipped a toe or two into Aqua's pool. I have covered basic aspects of building an Aqua-compliant application, including the building of photo-illustrative/3D application icons. Now it's time to address other components of our Mac OS X application.

Posted by: Tristram at January 12, 2004 5:39 PM

The simple fact is that, when all other factors are equal, where will consumers spend their money? I believe that in the long run, the best looking, easiest-to-use applications will also be the most successful. I think that's why Apple encourages developers to write programs that are 100 percent Aqua-compliant.

Posted by: Emmett at January 12, 2004 5:40 PM
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