In yesterday’s entry, I said David Bowie has the best aesthetic sensibilities of anyone — but should I care about his (or any artist’s) grasp of history, science, or (if I really wanted to shoot for the moon) economics?
My friend Andy Ager, who likes beer, once claimed that outside of New York and L.A., hardly anyone cares what celebrities think as long as they keep doing their jobs as entertainers (and I certainly hope that’s true — Megan Fox, for example, who appears in this month’s Transformers sequel, said that if Megatron were real she’d try talking him into only killing Midwesterners and conservatives, but this scenario will probably not arise in real life, at least not soon).
Bowie, you see, was briefly fascinated by fascism circa 1970, but then so was solidly non-fascistic, left-anarchist sci-fi writer Michael Moorcock (about whom, more in this month’s Book Selection entry in a couple weeks), and for similar reasons: mysticism! As alluded to in Hellboy, the Nazis were crazy for the supernatural stuff, with the affiliated Thule Society chock full of conspiracy theories about occult powers and visitors from other worlds. Combine that with some “superman” aspirations (which recur in several Bowie songs and several Moorcock sci-fi novels), and you’ve got more than enough hooey to keep a young male mind transfixed without any need to go murder millions of Jews or engage in industrial planning.
All this is a reminder, incidentally, that the Nazis were not atheists — heretics, maybe; neo-pagans, sort of; but definitely not atheists or secularists, despite what some religious folk might tell you. The Nazis had more anti-materialistic, mystical, unscientific beliefs than you can shake a Spear of Destiny at.
Hooey is not harmless (as my co-workers at ACSH could tell you), and it’s nice that Bowie has left ritual magic and other forms of borderline insanity behind as he ages. On a far less sinister note, I was also pleased to hear U2 correct a minor but embarrassing historical error from the studio version of their song “Pride (In the Name of Love)” — I noticed when I saw the spectacular IMAX movie U2 3D (one of the best uses of cinema I’ve seen, really) that Bono replaced “early morning April 4″ in the song’s description of the MLK assassination with the correct “early evening April 4.” Nice that they cared enough to do that. Now if we can just get him to switch to laissez-faire capitalism as the preferred means of rescuing Third World economies, he’ll really be changing for the better.
(And then someday, maybe rockers everywhere could even revise their songs to eliminate grammatical errors, if they really want to make me happy — while avoiding the hypercorrectness that led to Chrissie Hynde’s unfortunate line, in her cover of “Live and Let Die,” “If this ever-changing world in which we liiiive/ Makes you give in and cry…”).
I also question whether “Leslie Ann Levine,” in the Decemberists’ ghost-story song by that title, is really the most nineteenth-century-sounding name they could come up with (I mean “up with which they could come”) — but it’s still a great song (and I have come to like them so much I can happily forgive the new album being a little bit prog-rock boring).
On a more legit historical note — though perhaps an even more dangerous one — I saw historian Kim Phillips-Fein and economist Jeff Madrick (at an event organized by Julia Kamin) defend the New Deal and even lament that Obama may not be doing enough to bring about a comparable political/economic transformation. The two speakers weren’t evil or consciously authoritarian, just wrong and even naive, as I was reminded in particular by Phillips-Fein’s comment, when asked what regulations she’d like to see if not the ones we have now, that we can always get a bunch of economists together later to figure out that stuff — what matters is (a) summoning the political will to make big changes and (b) fighting against the people in industry who might want to block big changes.
That’s the left in a nutshell: Work out actual policy that can miraculously run the lives of 300 million individuals in the market better than they can run them themselves? Bah, details! We’ll handle that later! What matters is our collective good intentions + smashing the bad guys who oppose us. This is juvenile nonsense that needs to end immediately if we are to survive, the econ equivalent of creationism or flat-Earthism.
(On a similar note, the night before the New Deal talk, I got a chance to ask sociobiologist E.O. Wilson his opinion of string theory, to which he replied politely with words he’s heard appear on a plaque on an Anglican church: “Wonderful if true.” He quietly speaks volumes.)
Despite my complaints about the New Deal night, I told Madrick I would heed his advice to read his book The Case for Big Government, now out in paperback, and so I shall, likely adding it to my jam-packed, utopia-themed October Book Selections entry. My favorite recent observation about the New Deal, though, was made by the brilliant Helen Rittelmeyer, who notes that the so-called “reformists” of the New Deal often wasted ten times as much money as the local political machines they displaced and looked down upon (now I understand Helen’s qualified defense of machine politics a bit better).
Speaking of Helen, I should be grateful she’s here in my locality, NYC, this weekend, since NYC means hanging out with media-obsessed weirdoes like me, Michael Malice, and Malice’s pal Dick Masterson, whereas DC offered the chance to party with colossal political luminaries like Megan McArdle, Peter Suderman, Matthew Yglesias, and recently-annointed New York Times columnist Ross Douthat. But then, Helen has her subtle differences with Douthat anyway, as she noted on the blog of American Spectator (where she’s now working, for those keeping track). Like New Deal fans and Obamaphiles, social conservatives should acknowledge when we face hard choices and tough trade-offs. Only in the mystical realm do we get stuff at no cost.
But tomorrow is Flag Day, so I’ll put aside all these petty factional squabbles in tomorrow’s entry and celebrate AMERICA, along with some technically non-American bands.