Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Nick Berg and the Nouveau Conservatism

Yesterday, Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs, made a couple of posts about the savage slaughter of Nick Berg. One of the posts, Berg Family Angry with US Government, illustrated that Michael Berg had made some statements inculpating US officials in Iraq in part for his son's murder. Berg also made the following statement:

"'I think a lot of people are fed up with the lack of civil rights [the War on Terror/Iraq] has caused,' he said. 'I don’t think this administration is committed to democracy.'"

Now, as I mentioned yesterday, I watched the mujahideens' video. Johnson, whose interpretations of events I am not always fond of, deserves a lot of credit for describing in laconic, horrid terms the nature of the film. It conveys a sadness and barbarism that defies abstraction. Beset by the awesome emotions it bestirs, you can imagine my horror after reading several comments at LGF in which visitors began to bash Michael Berg for being a "Leftist"!

"The LLL [Loony Liberal Left] are amazing even after having his sons head literally choped off by these Radical Muslims the loyal anti-war dad finds the time to blame his own country in the form of Bush and the Military holding him."

"I can understand Mr. Berg's outrage and anger over the death of his son; therefore, I'll forgive him for his stupid, moronic, politically-motivated, un-American, ignorant, un-Patriotic, brainless, dim-witted, foolish, idiotic, reckless, careless comments about how it twas the fault of the U.S. Government for the killing."

So I posted some vituperative comments, my main one being, in excerpt:

"What I'm shocked by are the several execrable moral idiots here who watched the video, harvested the kid's slaughter for the orgy of righteous rage it bestirs, and then denounced Berg's father for being "LLL", for expressing bland anti-Bush sentiment because his kid was massacred. Do you have any clue how classless that is? Do you think Nick Berg would want that? Is it possible to be this fathomlessly unaware?"

An LGF visitor named Ron rebutted me, saying in part:

"If he [Michael Berg] makes a public statement, he gets answered. You get a free pass for your personal life if it's in the realm of personal. But you do not get a free pass when it affects everyone else."

Then, he was kind enough to come here and leave a thoughtful comment elaborating on his views. I decided to post what he wrote and my response here for two reasons. One, the free version of the Haloscan commenting system sucks. Two, I'm getting rather tired of the elements on the Right, which, as events in Iraq seem to degenerate more and more, are devolving into a complimentary state: intellectual chaos borne out of a wooden inability to appreciate mistakes and evolve. I call this nouveau conservatism. It is the New Right's answer to its own concept of idiotarianism.

This strain is exceedingly important to notice and combat as we approach the election that will make or break the War on Terror.

Here is Ron's comment. These prefatory remarks are not meant to set Ron up as an example of this element of the Right. Look to the quotes about Michael Berg above for that. I am merely trying to provide context.

JP, I'm glad I came to your website.

I saw your post on LGF re: Berg and it enraged me. Why? Because every time one of these outrages is perpetrated, I am convinced that I cannot take any more, and then I am told some preachy blah. As well as seeing the people who attempting to defend me get attacked in a very opportunistic way. Read the New York Suns May 10th, James Tarantino [Taranto] re: Eleanor Clift to get an idea of what I'm discussing.

She considered Abu Grhaib to be the biggest news story of the war, and Tarantino asks "bigger than the lightning fast victory? Bigger than the battle in which Udai and Kusai were killed? ... the reason it is so big for her is b/c it gives her a chance to demolish the war effort". the people you were posting to are not idiots or moral cretins. They are decent people who are getting fed up. Please remember that they are human. They have human reactions. Such as fear, anger, and guilt.

Guilt, that we are in some way responsible for this atrocity. Lets face it, we were the ones who propped up that sick bitch Hussein to begin with. So really, the deaths of many Iraqis are on our hands.

Anger over what was done to an innocent man. He [Nick Berg] was a good man who meant only well to others.

Fear that it will be done to us.

These are all perfectly reasonable reactions to an insane situation.

I'm glad I didn't jump all over you, b/c looking at your site, I see that you are sincere and intelligent. But I felt that I have to explain what happened, not b/c I don't think you can figure it out.


For what it's worth, I would like to say that I feel it's perfectly legitimate to have feelings of rage in response to obscenities like Berg's slaughter. When I watch shit like that, my thoughts run from inarticulate disbelief to profane and barbaric revenge fantasies. I'm hardly beyond reproach.

That said, I was making a simple argument at LGF: it is utterly classless to use Nick Berg's massacre as a jumping-off point for crapping on his father as a stand-in for some "Leftist" strawman. I use Reuters-style quotes and the term "strawman" here because Berg's father has done barely anything to merit the calumnies some "patriotic fundamentalists" are throwing at him. He merely made a couple of bland anti-Bush pronouncements. Now, it may turn out that he is indeed a Leftist, some ANSWER guy, for instance. I say, who fucking cares? I will not spit on Nick Berg in the wake of his death by spitting on his father. Doing so is disgusting and morally idiotic.

You implied that because Michael Berg made a public statement, then it is ok -- no, mandated -- to respond to him publicly. This is a more pragmatic argument, although it is ideological too: Michael Berg's rhetoric needs to be combatted lest he vitiate the war effort. Short of his becoming a career apologist for terror, like Rachel Corrie's parents are doing, I exhort you, with all due respect, to get a grip. The guy was suffering paroxysms of rage, and he had a covey of media vampires bustling in his yard, shoving microphones in his face while he learned that a video of his son's decapitation was playing on porn-loop across the world. He did not seek to make a public statement, he got brutally suckered into giving one at the worst possible time. Give the guy a break.

This is the gist of what I was saying over at LGF. Some posters there truly are idiotic moral cretins, and this bashing of Berg Senior was a good example of that, but hardly the only one. There is something I call "nouveau conservatism", a cheap, distilled ideology that grew out of post-9/11, pop neoconservatism, and which is often on display at LGF. Inevitably, all organic and powerful movements produce a shallow, gestural simulacrum of themselves. The hippies of the late '60s eventually became a smelly cotillion of kids at a Phish show. The culture of nouveau conservatism, like that of the nouveau riche, is obnoxious and noisome, a parody of its progenitor. And it is doing a lot more damage to the neocon undertaking in Iraq and elsewhere than any despairing statements by Nick Berg's father.

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