People, Get a Grip

Niall Ferguson, who isn’t content to be ridiculously wrong about economics, has a go at comparing the attacks in Paris to the Fall of Rome:

I am not going to repeat what you have already read or heard. I am not going to say that what happened in Paris on Friday night was unprecedented horror, for it was not. I am not going to say that the world stands with France, for it is a hollow phrase. Nor am I going to applaud President Hollande’s pledge of “pitiless” vengeance, for I do not believe it. I am, instead, going to tell you that this is exactly how civilizations fall.

Here is how Edward Gibbon described the Goths’ sack of Rome in August 410 AD:

“In the hour of savage license, when every passion was inflamed, and every restraint was removed . . . a cruel slaughter was made of the Romans; and . . . the streets of the city were filled with dead bodies . . . Whenever the Barbarians were provoked by opposition, they extended the promiscuous massacre to the feeble, the innocent, and the helpless . . .”

Now, does that not describe the scenes we witnessed in Paris on Friday night?

Oy. Where to begin. Yes, Niall, the scenes we witnessed in Paris were ugly and bloody. But after that, your comparison fails. The Fall of Rome started a mass depopulation of the city and the end of an entire political order in Europe. Parisians aren’t going anywhere, and though European governments and the EU have their problems, this attack, or others like it, have almost no chance of devastating the political order of Europe. Paris is damaged, but it’s been through far worse in the last hundred years (what with the Nazis and all) and survived. Europe has seen much more formidable challenges to its civilization than Daesh (what with the Nazis and all). Daesh is a feeble death cult, a wealthier and larger Manson family. It seeks to overthrow the entire world but in the end will accomplish nothing more impressive than murder.

Unless…

Daesh can’t wreck us, but we can wreck ourselves by succumbing to our own fear, allowing it to drive us toward what will later be embarrassing bigotries and paranoias, allowing ourselves to score own-goals against our civilization by curtailing rights and freedoms in the vain hope of absolute security.

Daesh believes in apocalypses, but we needn’t believe along with them. Yes, these butchers will kill people; but despite all their bloodletting, civilization, problems and all, continues, and that’s what frustrates them. They can’t shift it no matter how many people they shoot or behead or throw off roofs. And because no apocalyptic ideology can survive if the apocalypse keeps stubbornly not happening, they’ll eventually fade as all before them have faded, their adherents leaving as they realize the waste they’ve made of their lives. Beating Daesh is easy. All we have to do is remain who we are in spite of them.

When I think of Daesh, I think of an exchange of dialog between Vincent Bugliosi and Charles Manson in 1976’s Helter Skelter. In it, Charlie asserts he nearly pulled off fulfilling his apocalyptic vision and overthrowing the world with the Tate-LaBianca killings. Bugliosi’s answer is key:

Manson: But I almost did it, didn’t I? I almost pulled it off, almost made it, huh?

Bugliosi: No, Charlie, you weren’t even close. You killed some people, that’s what you did. You accomplished murder. You took a bunch of sad kids, human flotsam, and you played jailhouse games on them. That’s it, Charlie. You’re not even important anymore.

I have a feeling we’ll be saying this to the leaders of Daesh at some point, unless we, by childishly lending credence to their absurd visions of doom, scare ourselves to death.

So, people, if you want to beat Daesh, you start by doing something simple: getting a grip.

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