Disasters come in many varieties. I will concentrate on one type which is man-made. Disasters are blame loaded. Preventing one accrues little credit. For example, no one writes a headline: Maintenace crew on Alaska Airlines tightens loose screws. Only after a sealed door blows off in midflight is public attention fixed. Or, Titanic completes maiden voyage without hitting anything. Sometimes a modicum of praise attends a preventative act. IDF foils planned attack on settlements near the Gazan border.
The three examples above display the expected response to a potential disaster avoided. Detect and fix a problem before it harms and life goes on calmly. James Meigs has an article about the various species of disasters in the December issue of Commentary. Highly recommended for anyone who wishes a general discussion of the subject. I wish to focus on a cause of disaster not considered by Meigs – arrogance. Ignorance, neglect, blind routine, and absent-mindedness are also causes of avoidable disaster, but I’ll concentrate on arrogance.
Catastrophe secondary to arrogance is the opposite of that caused by neglect or inadvertence. Here those in charge are so convinced of the superiority of their knowledge and/or competence that they race forward – failure is impossible when you are so much better than an adversary and are a master of circumstance.
Arrogance induced disaster is common in war. Napoleon’s and Hitler’s invasions of Russia are prime examples. The Spanish Armada is another. The total defeat of the Russian navy at the Battle of Tsushima convinced the Japanese military that with more and better ships they could defeat any power even Britain and the USA. Admiral Yamamoto who planned the attack on Pearl Harbor was a junior officer at The Battle of Tsushima, though it is said he was not confident of Japan’s long-term success against the US. Thus, Japanese arrogance was, at least in part, responsible for the disaster that befell its empire in its war with America. The complete catalog of arrogance and war could fill many volumes.
The reach of potentially fatal arrogance goes well beyond the lists of martial strife. It touches virtually every corner of human endeavor. I concede that arrogance and imbecility are often hard to distinguish. Accordingly, I may blur the line of demarcation.
At any time, past or present, the world’s strongest power is sure to be its most arrogant. This arrogance is why the world’s leading country doesn’t maintain that position for long. The current title holder is us – the USA. In our case the distinction just mentioned above is especially hard to make. How can a country believe it can sustain a debt higher than heaven while simultaneously pledging to maintain order throughout the world? The definition it uses to denote order is blurred beyond recognition. To enforce our vision of right thinking we have the most expensive military in the world. Its budget is more than that of the next nine countries combined. Yet many in and out of government think it underfunded.
Were our Defense Department efficiently managed we could likely mismanage the world’s martial misfortunes at a third of what it now takes to muddle through. But spending hundreds of billions of dollars on munitions and the other paraphernalia of warfare is so beneficial to so many suppliers and populations both big and small that the status quo with respect to military spending will continue to exhaustion. Of course, the same strategy, impossible as it is, applies to almost everything on which the government spends. As almost all governments spend more than they receive from taxes, degradation of the currency from coin clipping to money printing is the inevitable end.
Once completely buried in debt, the bill comes due. The arrogance of those responsible for the fiscal catastrophe is that they ignore its eventual hammer by counting on their death before the bill collector arrives. Thus, screwing their descendants. Sometimes they proclaim that magic money is without end. Here we are confronted with the clash of cynicism versus arrogance. Incidently there is no cure.
Finally, we come to arrogance in excelsis. This form of the persuasion seems to be the final fruit of human development. We (really they) are the masters of the universe and can remake the laws of physics and biology to suit whatever distorted sense of order is preferred over that which developed ever since hominids started to wear clothes.
Look around at the mass madness that pervades Western society like a tapeworm. Lunacy is so pervasive that even those who recognize its perversity grant it a place in the public square saying: “Consenting adults are free to behave as they wish.” That may be so, but craziness is not OK and must be called out. One is not enlightened but rather imprisoned in rank error if he doesn’t subscribe to a new order in which anarchy is loosed upon a world full of passionate intensity but devoid of reason. Liquid gender, wanton sex, gangster politics, and universal intolerance define a new order of unrestraint and thuggish arrogance. Everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned.
Yeats saw a dim vision of what has arrived a century later. The rough beast has been born. Disaster is sure to follow.