Friday, February 29, 2008
my sweet neocon:
Enough about Jacob Heilbrunn's brilliant new book They Knew They Were Right and Eli Lake's first-rate national security reportage. Let's talk about me.

Jacob and Eli filmed a BloggingHeads segment in which they moot the idea that Yglesias and I owe something to the neocons. In particular, Yglesias is the beneficiary of a sarcasm-infused style of argument and I have a morbid fascination. Matt stands on his own two, so let me take my part of it.

In the segment, Jacob makes the point that the critics of the neocons frequently fall victim to the same zealotry that the neos display. It's a great point. But the question is why. I'd submit there are two answers. First, coherent (or at least distinct) intellectual movements are more interesting to observers than random agglutinations of people who believe stuff. This has its dangers for those observers: most importantly, selection bias, the tendency to only interpret data that fits the narrative. So the movement can seem more coherent than it is as soon as you adopt the "movement" framework to describe it. The neocons can, to a point, fairly object that they've been mugged in the press by the uncertainty principle.

But only to a point, and therein lies the second part of the answer. Movements are fascinating things. But movements that lie, repeatedly and brazenly, to outsiders about being at all coherent and then impugn the motives of any and all outsiders who seek to understand them -- those are captivating things. And when those movements, to a great degree, influence decisions of war and peace -- those are irresistable things. To belabor the point, you have to add into the mix the conspiracy-theorism, the ignorance masquerading as expertise, the stunning vanity and pretention, the insistence on speaking for an entire 5800-year old culture while denying the movement has anything to do with that culture, the barely-repressed homosexuality... look, anyone who doesn't find that fascinating has a screw loose.

Owing to some freelance obligations I'm only able to read They Knew They Were Right a few pages at a time, and as a result I'm barely halfway through it. But it's obvious from watching my dear friend Eli that Jacob nailed the template. In this segment, Eli backs away from applying the term 'neocon' to himself while simultaneously reaffirming its substance and can't let Jacob make a single point about the neos without disputing it. (Maybe he does earlier in the episode, which I confess to not having watched.) That's all in the fake-intellectual tradition that Jacob perfectly documents. That tradition is bad for America, bad for Israel, bad for the Jews, bad for the world, and bad for the soul. So maybe I have a little morbid fascination.
--Spencer Ackerman