"A Kind Of Anesthesia"
Mainstream political leaders (Hillary and Huckabee) and media figures (be sure to watch this video clip) now allude to assassination or openly joke about it in the context of the person most likely to become the nation's next president. And aside from those who follow the campaign season's daily drama, there's not a whole lot of concern about it. What's going on here? Just some loose, careless talk, nothing more than a set of coincidences? Or an unsurprising next step in which the system begins to feed on itself? Regular readers know my thesis that we're in an overarching period of consequences during which "things fall apart." Sebastian Haffner on how war, economic decay, and the failure of the political class produce a sort of trauma cocktail that can numb a nation and, in his words, make it "ready for anything":
Everything takes place under a kind of anesthesia. Objectively dreadful deeds produce a thin, puny emotional response. Murders are committed like schoolboy pranks. Humiliation and moral decay are accepted like minor incidents. Even death under torture only produces the response 'Bad luck'...Just a little pact with the devil -- and you were no longer one of the captured quarry. Instead you were one of the victorious hunters.In Crowds and Power, Elias Canetti tied the debasement of a nation's basic unit of measurement (currently the public's number one concern) to the degradation of the individual and the rise of extreme and previously taboo types of political and social discourse:
A man who has been accustomed to rely on it [the value of the currency] cannot help feeling its degradation as his own. He has identified himself with it for too long and his confidence in it has been like his confidence in himself. Not only is everything visibly shaken during an inflation, nothing remaining certain or unchanged even for an hour, but also each man, as a person, becomes less.Thomas Mann, in a 1942 lecture at Princeton, noted how easily the outrageous becomes the ordinary under those circumstances:
The market woman who demanded in a dry tone "one hundred billion" mark for a single egg had lost during inflation her ability to be amazed at anything anymore. Since that time nothing was so mad or so atrocious that it could have caused any awe in people anymore...They learned to look on life as a wild adventure, the outcome of which depended not on their own effort but on sinister, mysterious forces.And from one of Milton Mayer's interviewees, who probably wouldn't have been surprised by the rise of the assassination meme:
The world you live in -- your nation, your people -- is not the world you were born in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed.All against the backdrop of the Dolchstoss dynamic:
Every state must have its enemies. Great powers must have especially monstrous foes. Above all, these foes must arise from within, for national pride does not admit that a great nation can be defeated by any outside force.