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The Need For Grandeur

In a glorious order, there would be no homeless people and slums within sight of the Imperial Palace.
Living for about 4 years in Washington, DC, I got used to seeing dirty monuments and signs of abject squalor within a few blocks of some of the most important places on earth.
My first impression of DC was that everything seemed to have a dark layer of greasy soot on it, like seeing the world through a dirty old window pane. I was astonished by the horrid infrastructure. Power outages were common during the summer and once I went days without electricity. Growing up in a desert backwater of the American Empire and living for years in the “flyover” Midwest, I’d never seen or heard of such things in a wealthy country—it was embarassing to witness it in the capital of the world’s greatest power.
I went everywhere on the DC metro and was amazed at how often there were major delays and track shutdowns at peak hours. What should easily be a clean, reliable, safe system is instead notorious for its corruption, minor repairs that take months, and fatal accidents.
This sort of incompetence just comes to be met with sullen shrugs after awhile. Everyone knows the metro is a big affirmative action jobs mill and everyone suffers for it.
This kind of nonsense makes a mockery of the system’s legitimacy. At least most fools have the common sense to make sure it’s other people suitably far away who get burdened by their bad decisions. Who can but laugh when even the city of the rulers gets punished by their own stupid policies? They can’t even get incompetence right.
In a glorious system, it would be a point of pride that the trains arrive on time, especially in the Imperial Capital. Only the best would be allowed anywhere near infrastructure that millions of people see every day. When people see the system can get basic things done right, they can focus on higher things, their faith in the rulers is preserved.

Relentlessly literal-minded enlightenment thought has steadily diminished the old concept of grandeur. In the social cosmology, the elites dwell in heaven. Everything surrounding the rulers must be impressive. A rightful imperial capital would be off limits to most people, it would be pristine, its soil sacred. We can see how even ceremonial rulers like the English royal family are looked on by the whole world with a sense of awe. When a princess is with child, it’s as if she’s pregnant with a new God and millions look on in suspense at the prospect of a new addition to the pantheon. When legitimacy is properly cultivated, even the life cycle of the rulers becomes a living symbol of the continuation of an entire people. For society’s heaven is the source of ideal forms for the common people to emulate.

So in the rightful order of affairs, proper rulers cannot have ugly spouses or live in small houses. They must have the best of everything as a matter of course. The rulers can’t be seen eating French fries or consorting with entertainers. They must keep a mythic distance from the ordinary material world. It should be hard for the average person to imagine the rulers pooping, just as they can hardly imagine movie stars pooping. Lack of awe is why masses of millions would rather look up to entertainers than their rulers. The righteous ruler naturally outshines the celebrities and occupies an unquestioned spot at the top of Olympus.
This is not to suggest rulers would be out of touch with reality or sheltered. Running a state is deadly serious business. They would go through many rough trials in their ascent and much of their legitimacy would come from their bravery, integrity, vision, and competence. But once ascended, they would have a rightful role to fulfill.
Meanwhile, every day life below would reflect the grandeur cultivated at the top.

Perhaps police in important areas would be like old fashioned French guards selected for certain height requirements and dressed in imposing uniforms.
Flying airlines outside the US, I’ve noticed a sense of grandeur is cultivated by having mostly elegant and pretty young women as stewardesses.
Going through airports and customs in other countries is night and day compared to the US.
In America airports are heavily staffed by unsightly denizens of the lower and underclasses. Worse, they’re often in positions like TSA where they get to frisk people and question them in unintelligible mono-syllables. They’re placed in a position of power far above their station and the effect on social morale is devastating.
I still remember what it was like to come back from Argentina or Europe and the first sight that greeted me back to the US was lots of morbidly obese underclass blacks of ambiguous gender wearing uniforms that barely fit them. My stomach would sink into my feet and I would find myself wishing I’d just stayed where I’d come back from.
Like the trains, the airports are infrastructural institutions that form the public face of a nation.
We have only to glance at the magnificent rail stations of the 19th and early 20th centuries to see the importance of grandeur was once well understood.

Even outside official insitutions, architecture in general creates a cultural gestalt.
Just as broken windows invite crime, ugly buildings invite malaise and despair.
The USSR is commonly associated with its soul-destroying architecture but surely the USA with the same strip malls with the same floor plans repeating over and over across a 3,000 mile swathe has a similar crushing effect on the human spirit.
Travelling through Europe I saw the beauty of Munich contrasted against Berlin with its drab concrete slabs that dominate entire city blocks. Even the Berlin rail station looked like a borg cube from star trek and surrounding it was acres of empty land paved over with asphalt and concrete. It was depressing!
Where I now live in southern Ohio, I’m astonished to see that even the old water towers were built to look like stylized castles complete with crenellations. People used to simply understand the importance of raising mundane things to the spiritual plane through aesthetics.
In a proper society, grandeur is intuitively understood from the statecraft of rulers to the daily life of commoners. Just like good fiction has themes that tie all of its parts together, a good society engineers its aesthetics so that all its parts tell a compelling story of identity and cohesion.

US Leaning Towards Third World: No Electricity In the Capital

The air was heavy and oppressive with searing humidity as a cloud-swollen night sky boiled with lightning. It was about 11 PM, Friday June 29th, 2012.

As I prepared to leave for my job on the night shift, a massive wall of wind smashed into the neighborhood. The ponderous tree tops instantly accelerated into a frenzy; lights flickered and then died. Oh well. I shrugged. The same exact thing had happened again just a few days before. At work a generator had activated in response to the outage. The lights had been dim, an emergency light flashed on the ceiling, an alarm buzzed endlessly. Employees putting in hours of overtime far into the night had been frantically rushing back and forth hauling hundreds of pounds of meat and seafood off to the large freezers. As I performed my typical menial labor, I couldn’t shake the feeling I was a heroic protagonist trying to aid Soviet defectors aboard the Red October or busy fighting my way out of a research facility after an experiment gone horribly wrong.

This time was worse.
Even as I approached the door the streets were flooded within seconds. I grabbed a rain coat before wading out into the deluge but it provided little real protection.
This wasn’t rain as you would usually think of it. It did not fall. Rather, it was flung to the earth. It foamed and roiled as it struck. As I made my way to the metro station, I was actually thankful that the power was out. Swaying power cables were all around me and so was lots of water.
As I made the short walk, I was nearly forced to my hands and knees by the sheer force of the gusts. By the time I arrived, I was soaked through and had to wring out my socks…

Some geniuses who must have known hurricane force winds are not uncommon in the mid-Atlantic summer had decided on a brilliant way to implement an electrical grid: A random spaghetti of power cables running sloppily from house to house, many going right through the tree tops. Whenever a high wind arose, fast moving tree branches were sure to send broken power cables flying everywhere.
As it was, extensive localized damage was to be expected but this was somehow the least of it. Somehow stations and substations went down all at once. There was no backup plan nor any kind of temporary generator. Of the local power company’s 700,000 customers, over 400,000 were suddenly without electricity.
3 million people across the entire East coast and Midwest were without power.
The storm, while violent, had barely lasted half an hour as it passed through.

All this had happened in the midst of one of the worst heat waves ever recorded in the area. Temperatures soared into the triple digits.
I lived a full 3 days without access to electricity in these conditions. All of my perishable food spoiled and of course I couldn’t cook anything. In the worst of the heat, I had to sleep on a small stretch of cool concrete floor in the basement by the washing machine.

As I write this, there are still more than a million without power.
Perhaps a million people will be facing Independence Day without any electricity at home. In some places, 4th of July celebrations have already been canceled.

There’s no reason any of this needed to happen.
Things go wrong from time to time. Storms arise. But a massive breakdown of critically important infrastructure at the first sign of trouble tells us important things:

-The socially adept but incompetent have triumphed.

-If you’re just one of the peasantry you aren’t nearly important enough to be supplied with reliable utilities. Too expensive to plan a reliable system and maintain it properly? How much do you suppose it collectively cost ordinary people for all the inconvenience and spoiled food? The whole thing could be seen as a big ‘fuck you’ from the rich.

-Social atomization has progressed so far that the ability to work together to create functional public resources has vanished.

-The one thing a country like the US has long had in its favor: It’s been a decent place to settle for awhile and make some money. Reliable infrastructure is one of the key lubricants of commerce. If these basic services become unreliable, everyone has to spend their time and resources planning around it. The whole society becomes poorer. We have a phrase that’s often used to describe a society like this: ‘third world.’

-Loss of face and legitimacy. It is an embarrassment when a ‘developed’ country can’t even sustain an electrical grid in its Capital City.
The present system’s Mandate of Heaven is eroded that much more.

Career Bureaucrats Have More Power Than Political Appointees

Link

There is the assumption that it’s the political appointees who run things or change things or are the real power players in DC. My experience has always been that the real power in DC is the persistent class of senior bureaucrats just below the political level. The appointees typically last about 12-to-18 months, getting up to speed for most of that period and–maybe–having some actual impact if they’re quite focused in their goals. Otherwise they come and go, leaving nary a trace. They may think they run things and we may hold them ultimately responsible, but the truth is they’re more powerless than powerful.

The reality is not the change factor associated with new appointees in an active sense but more in a passive sense: it’s not what leadership they bring but what leadership-from-below that they allow.

This article cites two schools of thought on appointees:

One . . . argues that lots of political appointees can sweep away bureaucratic cobwebs. The other suggests that appointees mostly get in the way of the career professionals who really know how to make government work.

My experience definitely tends to the latter view. I mean, there’s just no comparing the knowledge base and wisdom.

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