Monday, July 25, 2005

The Unreality Trap

A BILLION. Ace columnist Mark Steyn begins his latest with the tale of a U.S. Department of Agriculture employee who met twice with Mohammed Atta to consider his request to get $650,000 in government funds to help finance the 9/11 attacks. Atta used a different name each time and explicitly referenced the possibility of attacking Washington, DC. She thought he was just an eccentric example of multiculturalism. Confident that he's got us us all rolling in the aisles with this anecdote, Steyn proceeds to extrapolate:

For four years, much of the western world behaved like Bryant. Bomb us, and we agonise over the "root causes" (that is, what we did wrong). Decapitate us, and our politicians rush to the nearest mosque to declare that "Islam is a religion of peace". Issue bloodcurdling calls at Friday prayers to kill all the Jews and infidels, and we fret that it may cause a backlash against Muslims. Behead sodomites and mutilate female genitalia, and gay groups and feminist groups can't wait to march alongside you denouncing Bush, Blair and Howard. Murder a schoolful of children, and our scholars explain that to the "vast majority" of Muslims "jihad" is a harmless concept meaning "decaf latte with skimmed milk and cinnamon sprinkles".

The piece is published in the Australian and might be aimed more at them than the western world in general, but Steyn appears to be making two points -- one, that the London bombings are having an effect on the ostrich left and, two, that multiculturalism is a kind of labyrinthine denial mechanism that makes it difficult to locate common sense on any level.

Steyn is always brilliant, but I think there's another point that needs to be made. Reading the paragraph I quoted above, I couldn't help musing on the Internet contretemps about Tancredo's comments and the odd fact that mainstream conservatives have been taking positions of the sort Steyn is mocking in his second and third sentences. Captain Ed and Hugh Hewitt aren't multicultural dupes, so why have they joined this very nonexclusive club?

I think I know why, and I mean no disrespect to Hugh and Ed in returning yet again to this peculiar controversy, because there's a lesson here for almost everyone.

I've seen the same phenomenon at work in corporate organizations. I call it the Unreality Trap. Imagine a bad situation that probably can't be fixed. Imagine you're in the Coca Cola marketing department on the eve of the launch of "New Coke." You suspect that you are involved in a business catastrophe -- a company conspiring to kill its own flagship product, perhaps the most successful single brand name product in the history of the food industry. What do you do? All the alternatives suck. If the campaign proceeds as planned, the company will lose millions and become the laughingstock of the world. If you could somehow halt the campaign, the company would still be a laughingstock and many careers would come to an end. There's no solution to the problem that isn't almost unbearably costly and difficult. What do you do?

In the corporate world, the response to these kinds of situations is to pretend that reality is different from what it obviously is to otherwise intelligent observers. You follow the most intelligent course you can think of given that the situation itself is out of control. For example, you decide to waste a little less money wherever you have some control of spending on promoting the turkey called "New Coke." It's sensible and defensible. After the catastrophe, you'll look comparatively smarter, and at least you didn't fling gasoline on the bonfire. You may even succeed in convincing yourself that this course of action is shrewder and better advised than running around corporate headquarters screaming about the need to stop the launch of "New Coke."

That's what's going on with Hugh and Captain Ed and all the other conservatives who got so stuffily self righteous about Tancredo's remarks. The truth is, there isn't an easy or automatically right solution to the problem of Islamofascism. It's true that every attempt to defeat them, kill them, or stop their murderous plans will create more terrorists. That's the real bitch of fighting an irrational enemy. Deep down, Hugh and Captain Ed know as well as we do that Islam itself is a major part of the problem, no matter how condescendingly they respond to those of us who are willing to say it out loud. Otherwise, why would they be so frightened that one politican's remarks are going to seriously increase the threat against all of us? They wouldn't. If some congressman suggested that the best way to deal with the corruption of the U.N. would be the nuking of Paris, everyone of sound mind would just laugh.

So what's up with Hugh and Captain Ed? They don't want to think about just how awful the problem is, and they can't see any way out of the situation we're in that doesn't involve bloodshed and sacrifice on a massive scale. And so they choose to remake reality in more comforting terms. Our enemy is only a few million malcontents. Therefore, we can navigate our way through the gauntlet by selecting some judicious set of military, diplomatic, and economic measures.

The only problem with that strategy is that it's wrong. The world economy can't afford the United States to take a gigantic blow that erases the confidence of ordinary people in going about their daily business. The Islamofascists know that, and it is their ovverriding purpose to deal just such a blow. When they succeed, their numbers will increase immeasurably beyond what they are now. The proof that crippling America is actually possible will be a more potent recruiting tool than anything any politician can say on his most insane day.

But there's another problem of denial that must be confronted by those who are willing to stand up to Hugh and Captain Ed. Defeating and controlling the considerable population of muslims who are cheering on the terrorists will not be achieved simply by killing a bunch of them or eliminating their holiest places. Yes, PC games are worse than accepting the facts as they most probably exist, but what then? What strategy can be successful for those who see with unblinkered eyes?

Because they won't all lay down their arms and put their hands up the day after Mecca starts glowing like the dial of an alarm clock. What do you propose to do to win the war on terror? It's an important question, much more pertinent in the scheme of things than how best to respond to the silly denials of the self-deluding. What will it take to win this thing?

Forget all the ordinary assumptions about what Congress will fund, what any U.S. president will have the guts to do. Those assumptions will be the biggest casualty of the first real assault on America. Start thinking now about how we will have to fight the nightmare war that begins the day after that attack. And by fighting, I mean fighting to win.

HINT: The right answer isn't going to be a paragraph or two in the Comments section. It's got to be far more than a few bellicose declarations of spleen and will.

Hugh and Ed need to end their fit of denial. And so do the rest of us. We really are in a war for civilization. And we really do have nearly a billion opponents. Think about it.

UPDATE:  I see that the Pope has issued another infallible encyclical on the Tancredo matter. I'll have more to say about this later. He's starting to become positively obnoxious.

UPDATE:  This is a continuation of the discussion started HERE with continuing analysis HERE.

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