One of the primary benefits of studying history is wrestling with the question “how could they not have seen that coming?” As the saying goes, “hindsight is always 20/20,” but foresight usually falls far short of that. Most people expect things to continue on as they always have in their experience. Until suddenly they don’t.
Try to remember that Sarajevo once hosted an Olympics. Remember that Beirut used to be called “The Paris of the Middle East.” Remember that women used to wear lipstick and miniskirts in Tehran.
I believe this inability to visualize the possibility of disastrous change is one of the key vulnerabilities of the United States. Yes, every generation whines about how things aren’t like they were “in the good old days” — mine included. But few put these vignettes together into a narrative that might be pointing to a larger journey into disaster. This blindspot in America is likely caused/enhanced by the fact we haven’t faced disaster as a society in a very, very long time by the world’s standards. Even though we participated in both World Wars, the chance of either posing an existential threat to the United States was extremely low. The last time American civilians had to fear soldiers on the march in their homeland was the War Between The States — over 150 years ago.
Any advanced and thriving civilization has large numbers of people – especially at the top of the pile – who are comfortable and safe, and are so for generations. This lack of meaningful threats, from birth onward, causes the amygdalae structures in the brain to not fully develop compared to prior, more stressed, generations because of a lack of stimulation; thus, the ability to recognize actual threats has atrophied. This leads to the society as an aggregate, and the leadership class in particular, taking actions that they do not recognize as dangerous, which result in the collapse of the civilization.
When gun controllers say the 2nd Amendment is outdated, they are reflecting the atrophy described above. The Holocaust is well-known; the various Communist purges less so, but far too many believe that’s just what happens to “other people.” It couldn’t happen in America, right? Some people know better but choose to seek disarmament anyway, the better to advance a political agenda. But a substantial number simply have no personal frame of reference of an experience where they were in mortal peril, and needed to defend themselves. Media coverage of the topic emphasizes criminal use of firearms, neglecting the far larger number of cases of defensive use. This is one reason why veterans and many civilians are separated by a wide gap on the 2nd Amendment. The handful of veterans who are celebrated for advocating gun control are either those whose work never exposed them to danger, or who know better but desire public acclaim more than common sense.
The same dynamic is at work in the issue of mass migration. The millions of current Muslim “refugees” (an abused term if there every was one) trigger a much different social memory in Eastern and Central Europe than it does in the West. The advance of Islam in the Middle Ages was largely stopped at the Battle of Tours, so Western Europe, Scandinavia and England never dealt with the threat on any large scale. Not so with the East, Islam’s initial momentum culminated in two sieges of Vienna (1529 and 1683), and sectarian violence and discrimination between Muslim, Orthodox and Catholic ensued for generations. This is the origin of the term “balkanization,” and if you’ve paid attention you’ve heard it applied to modern demographic trends in the U.S.
That is why Polish, Hungarian and Czech attitudes toward the current wave of Muslim migration differ considerably from those of the Germans or French (though the latter two are starting to realize the consequences).
In the United States, immigration has become enshrined as part of the national experience. The downsides of previous waves of immigrants (ethnic tensions in the cities, cramped living conditions, crime, etc) are rarely examined except to try to place the blame solely at the feet of Anglo-Americans. That’s why those who oppose mass immigration (especially the illegal variety) today are accused of being “on the wrong side of history.” Those who know their history, however, realize today’s wave of
invaders “immigrants” bear little resemblance to those of Schoolhouse Rock fame. For starters, immigrants in the late 1800s understood they were leaving most all ties to their homeland to become immersed in a new one, which required adaptation to language and culture. They were scrutinized carefully by U.S. authorities to screen out political radicals, the diseased and those who would likely become a burden on society. Today, millions have entered the U.S. without permission or scrutiny (the largest contingent by far being from Mexico and Central America). In the U.S. they can watch Spanish-language TV, demand translation services for all official business, and largely insulate themselves from adapting to their new home if they so choose. There is no incentive to assimilate; indeed, many ardently proclaim their greater loyalty to their country of origin. As one person put it online:
“Too many people are coming to America just to be in America. They aren’t coming here to be Americans. That needs to change.”
In short, immigration today bears only a passing resemblance to the immigration of decades past. It more closely resembles the settling of the Goths within the Roman Empire.
The point of this post is to emphasize that America is not immune to disaster, despite her long history. Over the decades, many planks have been removed from the platform our Founders carefully constructed – overturning the prohibition of an income tax, allowing direct election of Senators, and so forth. Each of these, while debated at the time, were considered incremental in effect. But decades of such increments eventually add up to something substantial. Our politics today are not about degrees of policy anymore. There are irreconcilable differences in the worldviews in play, and a desire to use the machinery of government to enforce an orthodoxy at odds with our traditions. We are at a tipping point in our history. Those who would disarm and displace the historical American body politic now hardly disguise their intent. Those who recognize what is at stake are more energized to resist it than ever before (hence the previously inconceivable election of a man like Donald Trump).
Many Americans assume those who are preparing for possible disaster somehow are looking forward to it. Nothing could be farther from the truth. They fail to realize the ability to visualize potential futures and make preparations to meet them are the best ways to prevent America from suffering the fate of other nations.
What do YOU see ahead? What are YOU doing to prepare? What are YOU willing to do to prevent disaster?