walter russell mead peter berger lilia shevtsova adam garfinkle andrew a. michta
Published on: November 7, 2009
Strange News But Good News

The New York Times this morning has a story that more and more people are paying actual money for virtual goods; they are paying on-line retailers and social network sites to send virtual gifts to their friends.  You pay one dollar; they ‘ship’ the image of a champagne bottle to the on-line account of someone you wish to congratulate.

The first reaction: P.T. Barnum lives!  Nature is still pumping out suckers, one a minute.

Second reaction: Good for the earth!  I’ve long thought that economic growth is not only compatible with saving the environment; growth is the best strategy for saving the planet.

This story is an example of what I’m talking about.  As the economy grows, our wants become more sophisticated and refined.  It’s not just that rich countries are willing to pay for clean air, clean water and the preservation of natural beauty while poor countries often aren’t.  It’s not just that technological progress, the motor of economic growth, creates new and more efficient ways of using fossil fuels and other raw materials.  It’s that a growing economy tends to shift from the production and consumption of heavy industrial goods to goods whose value comes from services and design: from human ingenuity rather than the earth’s resources.

These virtual goods on the internet are an extreme example of what I mean; their impact on the earth is minimal, but consumers apparently believe, to the tune of $5 billion per year, that they provide a real value.

The whole internet works that way, actually.  When teenage boys are burning off their excess testosterone by pounding keyboards while playing internet games rather than racing the engines of their hot-rods out on the streets, that’s a good thing from the earth’s point of view.  When shoppers cut back on trips to the mall, substituting mouse clicks for gasoline, the world gets a little bit cleaner.

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  • Anthony

    Pete Seeger made a contribution (especially via Hudson River restoration) and despite politics that matters; and you’re right obsessing can and does corrode.

  • Fat_Man

    De mortuis nil nisi bonum dicendum est

    • Andrew Allison

      Hitler? Stalin? Attila the Hun?

  • TommyTwo

    I could just as easily say that your criticism of Seeger’s critics bears too personal an edge. That perhaps your early inoculation against Seeger’s more, ahem, controversial ideas led you to be too dismissive of them, as opposed to the “neo-cons” who knew that those ideas held much appeal and thus felt it necessary to oppose them vigorously. Most of this in the context of the Cold War, mind you. (I say this as someone who shares your attitude towards Seeger, though I’ve been having second thoughts of late.)

  • johngbarker

    “bullshistory” –that is one great word. I will look for it to appear in the OED.

    • ljgude

      Of course it needs to capitalized when it is used in the sense of ‘being on the right side of Bullshistory’.

  • free_agent

    You write “valance”. That should be “valence”.

    • TalkTalkTalkType

      No, I think valance is correct. As in the ideological valance changed, as in the drapery, but the attitude and approach remained the same.

      • Andrew Allison

        I beg to differ. Valance is the camouflage which hides the mechanism of the drapery.

        • ljgude

          Bewdy mate!

      • free_agent

        Wiktionary gives “valance” as “Short curtain that hangs along the top edge of a window.”, and “valence” as “A one-dimensional value assigned to an object, situation, or state, that can usually be positive or negative”. The latter definition seems to me to be closer to what the context demands.

  • free_agent

    You write, “Some became moderates, but a few lurched all the way to the right,
    keeping entirely intact the Trotskyite style of thinking about politics,
    merely reversing the conventional ideological valance.”

    See “The True Believer” for a discussion of the tendency of fanatics to change their cause more easily than to abandon their fanaticism. The most stunning case was where Hitler ordered that no one should be barred from membership in the Nazi Party for having previously been a Communist.

    You write, “Some became moderates, but a few lurched all the way to the right,
    keeping entirely intact the Trotskyite style of thinking about politics,
    merely reversing the conventional ideological valance.”

    Didn’t Tom Lehrer say something like “If you want to change the world, you’ve got to sing real loud!”?

    • Kavanna

  • Kavanna
    • TommyTwo

      I’ll see your Spengler and raise you two Mark Steyns.

      • Kavanna

        Raise high the beer Steyn.

  • Corlyss

    “His belief * * * was at best childish.”

    That’s pretty much true of Communism, Progressivism, Environmentalism, and other Utopian Religions that hold that man is perfectible with only the right kind of state-organized policies.

  • RonRonDoRon

    I never paid much attention to Pete Seeger. To the extent that I did, I didn’t think much of his music – every song I heard sounded like a children’s song to me. The lyrics of “Turn, Turn, Turn” are ripped straight from the Old Testament and the melody is nothing special – the Byrds’ version was pretty good but quickly grew tiresome.

    • Kavanna

      Seeger *was* intellectual, originally. He was just motivatived by poisonous ideas and virtually unlimited contempt for ordinary people who weren’t part of the anointed “vanguard” — very Leninist. But he wrapped up the poison in musical cotton candy. After the 1950s and the “Thaw,” he lost any intellectual coherence, and just the cotton candy, with some residue of poison, remained.

  • ljgude

    I don’t think I’m one of those that lurched from far left to far right. More from mid left to mid right. In any case I feel pretty well the same as Adam about old Pete. I liked him and although his politics were plainly visible I never felt he was shoving them down my throat. As for Mr. Garfinkle all I can say is that any man who drives a 52 Cadillac Fleetwood must be pretty close to enlightenment even if my spell checker thinks he transposes the last two letters of his name.

  • emerich

    “Many of us, I think, corrode our lives by obsessing too much about politics.” Maybe so but we don’t all write articles about it! Sure, Seeger had a good voice and had talent. But to the degree he had political influence in the direction he must have wished, wasn’t the direction a malign one?

  • lhfry

    “I think Seeger’s politics were emotional in origin, not intellectual—and that their net impact remains mostly emotional as well…”

    Yes – in the way faith is emotional, beyond reason. Leftism (communism, socialism, progressivism, whatever) is a
    religion. It has its gods, its devils, its dogma, its rituals, its martyrs, its taboos, its hymns, and it punishes those who stray with shaming and ostracism. When I think of Pete Seeger, I think of him as the left’s composer of hymns. Pretty trite stuff, bottom line.

    He was the background music of my childhood, since my parents were Communists too. And like any religion, it’s difficult to discard. Took me until my late 40s, and I still sometimes reflexively react out of that emotional core.

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