Every day we run The Narrative Machine on the past 24 hours of financial media to generate a list of the most linguistically-connected and narrative-central individual stories. We call this The Zeitgeist and we use it for inspiration or insight into short-form notes that we publish a couple of times a week to the website. To receive a free full-text email of The Zeitgeist whenever we publish to the website, please sign up here. You’ll get two or three of these emails every week, and your email will not be shared with anyone. Ever.
Last Friday, the Washington Post printed an article that scored near the top of our Weekend Zeitgeist, when we explore articles outside of our typical focus on financial markets. We didn’t write anything about it, in part because we think it’s worth being a bit more skeptical about feature and opinion pieces whenever you do agree with them.
And while I can’t help rolling my eyes a bit at the repeated appeals to international law (sorry, still an unabashed chauvinist about that sort of thing), there is a lot in this piece I do agree with. Hence the skepticism. America’s nearly constant state of war over the last few decades is a classic dog that didn’t bark, an event that is newsworthy because we have been told it is un-newsworthy, like a strike aircraft we can only see because it was painted blacker than the night sky itself.
American weapons are fired in anger daily. They kill real people, deserving and otherwise, daily. Except for a predictably politically motivated annual tally article published in tandem with some scheduled Pentagon disclosure or FOIA request, we simply do not hear about it. If we do hear about it, especially in our industry, it is abstracted into figures and good-sounding features of people just doing their job. Hellfires and Block III Griffins are the new “razor blade” model for business models with high levels of recurring free cash flow, don’t you know. Hey, we fire the occasional Viper Strike, too, if you’re willing to deal with a lack of transparency on how that’s hitting your bottom line in the BAE/EADS JV that builds them, there’s something for you in Europe, too.
The Infinity War [Washington Post]
So why now? Why would this piece be among the most connected by language to other articles published over the weekend?
Because nearly every politician from nearly every party is calling for an end to our Infinity War. This language being begged for and described in this opinion piece exists in dozens of recent pieces covering the upcoming primaries.
And why did we decide to post it today?
We posted the article because these arguments – for the most part – aren’t earnest expressions of a desire to end war. They are memes of An End to War!, good-sounding narrative constructs structured to pretend that stand-off weapons, cruise missile strikes, targeted assassinations and UAVs are not part of what needs to end, but things we will define as not being acts of war at all. An End to War! is at the top of the Zeitgeist because our politicians, parties, think tanks and other Important Institutions have decided that so long as no American troops are put into harm’s way, what we are doing isn’t actually war.
War is over if you want it. Just change what you call it.
When we refer to The Long Now, what we mean is the way we borrow from the resources, stability and happiness of our collective future to smooth the edges of the present. Anything to reduce what feels like volatility. Anything to reduce the perception of geopolitical risk. Anything to avoid someone saying that there was something else we might have done. The Long Now is the prioritization of the subjective perception of the present with no concern given to the cost that will come due in the future.
The Infinity War is a part of the Long Now.
Don’t mistake me. Being lawful good doesn’t mean being lawful stupid. Legitimate states have enemies. They will and in some circumstances ought to conduct open war to defeat those enemies. And when they do, I hope it is our boys and girls who make the other poor dumb bastards die for their country. But remember this: Obama and Trump both ran on An End to War! The 2020 candidates will run – in part – on An End to War! Clear Eyes means seeing that they don’t mean what you and I mean.
It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it.Robert E. Lee, in a comment to Lt. General James Longstreet about the Battle of Fredericksburg
Full Hearts, too. We have become far too fond of war, and far too unwilling to ask questions about why it is conducted in our name. You and I may agree or disagree with the answers we get, and that’s OK. We may disagree about whether we ought to participate in this kind of action or that. That’s OK, too. I disagree with 2003 version of me who was a full-throated supporter of the Iraq War. But no matter our posture on the role of violence on our behalf in executing US foreign policy, memes of An End to War! which abstract away targeted, smaller-scale violence-at-a-distance into topics unworthy of our notice serve no American.