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30 September 2014


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Eliot: It is not only the primitive and backward peoples. The complete fusion of self-interest and self-righteousness defines the "responsibility to protect." Can you imagine the rhetoric if Russia or China did to Gaza what Israel did?


Well... Remember Grozny?

Jim Buck

Sewage disposal, clean water,and other sanitation measures are products of modernity; and would be of benefit to populations anywhere on the planet. Please feel free to disagree.


Jim Buck

Is that supposed to be profound? Get over yourself or go somewhere else. pl


I also went to a "skeptical boarding school in New England," perhaps the same one. I then proceeded to three different "skeptical" Ivy League schools, the first of which (for my Bachelor's Degree) once prided itself on placing alumni into the CIA, but now mostly sends its graduates to large financial firms. The boarding school was once an Ivy League feeder school, and the dominant ideology of the boarding school was identical to that of my alma mater.

I agree completely with your description of the mindset. This is the necessary mindset for those who are being trained to lead a global empire, whether through government, finance, or other institutions.

You don't go far enough, though. The outlook of Obama and his circle is certainly defined by this ideology, but so is the outlook of nearly every major politician (of either party), ambassador, Secretary, and senior bureaucrat. This triumphalist, self-righteously modern (and secular) viewpoint, combined with a healthy dose of greed, is the dominant ideology of our political class. I am a civilian, so I can't say how well military leadership shares this mindset, but from what I have read about David Petraeus he certainly seems to be cut from the same cloth.

This has been a major problem for our foreign policy since 1960, if not before.

Sadly, the major alternatives to this in our political system seem to be heavily invested in even more dogmatic ideologies - libertarianism and fundamentalism both come to mind.

The Twisted Genius

Eliot and Isaac,

Wow! Sounds like those New England boarding schools are certainly not for the likes of us "little people" as Leona Helmsley called us. At one time I thought about seeking to teach at one of these schools. Lucky me that fate intervened. I wonder if those elitist attitudes have any connection to either the old lights or the new lights of New England's Puritan Great Awakening.

I went to a Jesuit high school, a prep school which I thought was pretty lah-de-dah since I had to wear a jacket and tie every day. However, the Jesuits drummed the concepts of humility and duty into our impressionable little heads. With those concepts and the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church we were to "go forth and set the world on fire."

Babak Makkinejad

Those attitudes are widely shared inside the fly-over-America, in my opinion and are not confined to a few boarding schools in New England.


Eliot, Isaac and TTG, I went to Exeter for four years. I'm confused by your unwillingness to name your schools. Perhaps you mean to protect them. Exeter in the late 80's was not perfect, but it was committed to teaching us the otherness of the world. I spent junior year studying the Old and New Testaments. I was encouraged to understand that culture created difference. I was assessed on my ability to understand American independence as American. The Bible I used as a textbook, traveled with me to Jerusalem for my senior year of undergrad and the start of my masters. The spirit of questioning, which I understand runs rampant through the Jesuit tradition, is what is so lacking today. Simply put, we don't know, and we don't care. Do you really mean to discredit those who begin their serious academics at an earlier age than most? Shouldn't we applaud those who place study of the world as their raison d'etre?

This post may sound smug. I apologize. I just think it's beneath this committee to paint with such broad strokes. It reminds me of those who discredit VMI as racist or misogynistic, without considering tradition and service. My grandmother (William and Mary '36) shipped my reverse carpetbagger father (VMI '63) a sweatshirt that read "Better Dead than Coed." Would you accuse her of self-loathing as you accuse "boarding schools" of elitism? That which many of us here prize - scholarship, the autodidact - was lauded, encouraged and even insisted upon at my high school. I'm sorry your mileage varied.



"Racist and misogynistic?" Who? What? Most of us have always liked girls, any kind of girls. Racist? Well over 50% of our alumni died in the WBS (damned few in blue), so if you think that was just about race then you could think that. '63?" Did you tell me his name? pl



Religion is particularly dominant in fly-over America. Where do you get this stuff? pl


Maybe it's time for a constitutional amendment banning graduates of Harvard and Yale from becoming President.

Such an amendment would have spared us the last quarter century of empire builders...

Stephen Jones

Playwright Max Frisch said:

"A man with convictions finds an answer for everything. Convictions are the best form of protection against the living truth."

I think his words reflect the same essential truths Eliot and others here are getting at.



They don't see it as self interest. They lack that sort of introspection.


"This triumphalist, self-righteously modern (and secular) viewpoint, combined with a healthy dose of greed, is the dominant ideology of our political class."

I would agree with that.


I have mixed memories of that place but I wouldn't hesitate to teach at a boarding school - albeit not the one I attended. There is something powerful about that experience and I will be forever grateful for the education I received. Amidst all that dogma there were great teachers, teachers who saw the world more clearly.

It tried to be a school for little people, but in a very paternal sense. They placed great emphasis on the downtrodden and the opressed, and they taught us it was our obligation to lift them up.

Setting the world on fire, now that's an image. My masters had the same amibition, but they were not the Jesuits - they didn't have the foresight ot measure it with humility. And nothing could be more important than humility, for we're all wrong about something and it's that humility that guides us to our inner doubts - that teaches us to listen. Our lack of humilty also blinded us, we were so sure of our truth that we never stopped to understand the world as the other saw it - whoever the other might be.


Exeter comes from a different tradition and I'm glad that you profited from your time there. My brothers experience was similar to yours and he's much fonder of his alma mater for just that reason. His school was eccentric enough to send him off to Beograd for a summer, and this was just after the airwar. It was a rather thrilling trip for an uncompanied seveteen year old. Of course even his school has changed so much in the past few years - they even bulldozed the fives courts.

As for my views, I'm not paricularly unsual. Most of my classmates were comfortable with the institutions utopian vision, those that were not tended to take my view. I remain friends with many people who fell in the other camp, but I will always have trouble with their political agenda. They may have great hearts and the best of intentions - but I question their wisdom. They may have studied the outside world, but I don't think they actually understand it. Their too blinded by their own ideology to do so.

- Eliot

The Twisted Genius


Your experience at Exeter sounds a lot more like what I expected at these schools. I was surprised at Eliot and Isaac's experiences... or interpretations. You are also right about the Jesuit spirit of questioning. The Ignatian model of teaching and learning is severely lacking in the world today. BTW, you're not smug, just proud of your early education as I am. I'm Fairfield Prep class of '71.


Can't speak for Babak, but ...

The ideas and ideals taught at those boarding schools are taught only to a narrow set of people, who are but a segment of the whole US. Still, it explains Obama's secular and technocratic attitudes.

It does not describe or explain attitudes in the US proper.

In my reading, what Babak is probably getting at is that them 'flyover Americans' manage to combine intense and genuine religiosity with adherence to the basics of the American civil religion as teached in the aforementioned institutions (civilising mission, exceptionalism and the call to global leadership).

There is overlap betwen 'the secular left' and 'the religious right', to use those terms. I would call what is a the intersection US nationalism.

I think that Babak is largely right if he refers to that.

The US "civilising mission, exceptionalism and the call to global leadership" are values transcend secularism or religiosity. These attitudes are widely shared, and shared beyond secular boarding schools. Pupils in US schools have their daily 'Fahnenapell' irrespective of their creed.


To me there cannot be any doubt that Bush 43, Romney, McCain or the Clintions, Obama or Biden are equally nationalistic.

Only their diferent outlook suggests to them different means. That explains Obama's cleverer and smarterer pursuit of Bush policy goals.

I presume one has to read the (French, of course) Clever and Smart cartoons to fully grasp that pun (it is one, I assure you).


Babak Makkinejad

The core ideas common to both groups is this:

the American Exceptionalism and its inherent superiority and the attendant superiority of its adherents to any and all.

That is the common theme, in my view from which everything else follows.

The dominant religion in US, all the varieties of Protestantism with their absurd claim - from a Muslim point-of-view - that its adherents can communicate with God at a personal level (something that in Islam is viewed as the privilege of a few of the prophets or Men of God - اولیا الله ) makes it worse to understand alien peoples; they are all too absorbed in their personal conversations with God to care about what his other creatures think or say.

Babak Makkinejad

Yes, I agree with you.

One of my friends who had relatives in Iowa told me that it was impossible to discuss anything with his Iowa relatives; the only thing you could do was to agree with them that "America is a Great Country".

Now, that was fine, I thought, but why make such the greatness of the United States so central to one's being that no further discussion on anything could be attempted?

I mean, it would be like a Muslim stating that "Islam is the Best Religion", all the time.

Clearly, no discussion with such a person could take place either.


I had a similar experience, years back, with a bunch of people, iirc an extended family, from Utah in Cancun.

They essentially told me as if it was utterly self evident that the US is the bestest and greatest country, ever, and that Utah is the greatest state.

There indeed appeared to be no conversation possible at all beyond "America is a Great Country".

So I bit my tongue and said that it sure must be a swell place to visit, and that I planned to do so, and we had a nice time.

The Americans I met in Europe were different.



I do. See http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/WPcap/1999-11/28/055r-112899-idx.html

We never justified Russia's actions.


Pat, my father and I watched your sane and informed commentary on PBS during the GW and were saddened when you stepped down. We understood your reasons.

I wasn't clear and I apologize. Explicitly, the broad stroke condemnation of "elitist" boarding schools (30-60% receive outright financial aid gifts; almost all receive tuition assistance) seems silly. How are they elitist? SSAT scores? Grades? Athletics? Music?

I recoil against those shallow claims as I do against my ill-informed liberal, northern friends who claim that VMI was racist for not admitting many blacks and misogynistic for not admitting women. It's a claim made out of ignorance. It's the brush the lazy media paint with, argument by assertion.


BM & confusedponderer:

I'd tout American Exceptionalism if it meant we would keep raising our standards. What is really exceptional about America (belief in success, notion that everyone deserves a chance, us being a true universal nation, etc).

Unfortunately, our politicians use the phrase to quell critical thought, akin to Candide's best-of-all-possible-worlds. Why fix anything if we are already the best?


"What is really exceptional about America (belief in success, notion that everyone deserves a chance, us being a true universal nation"

I mean that is the more positive view of it, and indeed, it is something that is a theme in the American creed.

"Unfortunately, our politicians use the phrase to quell critical thought, akin to Candide's best-of-all-possible-worlds. Why fix anything if we are already the best?"

That would then be the part that annoys everybody abroad while leading to complacency at home.

With a decaying infrastructure, silent inflation, and messes like a bankrupt Chicago, are you still the best? Are you?

I mean, when my mother talks about America after the war she is utterly positive. The US literally saved her live by providing penicilin when she had diphteria as a child. Add to that school feding nd care packages. The US did some real good, and continue to do so.

In many other respects the US are an outrage waiting for a reality check.

Just a few examples: The US model for an ecomomy - unlimited looting with impunity for elites and zero oversight - scares the heck out of everybody else, rightfully, as it should you. The US justice system with the immense power vested in federal prosecutors? Fair? Something that skewed a model for the world to emulate? The US ideas on campaign finance - a model for the world? Seriously?

Thanks, but no thanks.

If the US tried leadership by example again, they will to their dismay find that they have a lot of setting examples to do again.

But hey, Obama and Ms. Powers REALLY needs to regime change Syria. One has to set priorities, and the conservatives cheer them on, if they don't yell at them for not being trigger happy enough.

Speak about conservative:

It is a joke lost on the right in the US that they supported a policy under Bush 43 that had as the basic formula massive social enineering abroad as America's burden - and they could easily reconcile that with being conservative.


Is it possible that those "America is a Great Country" statements were declarations of affection, and so off limits as a topic for analysis or discussion. Kind of analogous to "I love my dear old dog and decline to discuss his mange, his flatulence, or his bad breath - with YOU."


Not necessarily the same thing as the mass Dunning-Kruger effect induced by CorpsMedia+consumer culture+crap schools.



Actually, afair we had just run into each other and were just talking about how nice Yucatan was and that I was from Germany before the subject of how great exactly America is, and Utah, came up.

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