Let’s try and put ourselves in the shoes of a member of the John Birch Society, circa 1968. What would the basis of such a person’s political worldview be? Basically, that the USA was ruled by a small cabal of educated elites, who were systematically undermining the USA’s advantages against Soviet Russia, and sabotaging the efforts of the military to protect the USA from the danger of Soviet attack. This person might also believe that the truth about the Kennedy assassination was covered up by this same elite cabal.
And such a person would be correct, of course.
Not joking. The historical facts are quite easy to establish here, they’ve been on public record for years (since the publication of “Secrets” by Daniel Ellsberg) and they’re ably summarised in James Galbraith’s obituary of Robert McNamara, among other places. In the early 1960s, the USA had sufficient superiority over the USSR to win (or at least, survive) a first-strike nuclear war, and the main war-fighting plan of the US armed forces did in fact revolve around such a “preventive” first-strike war; it was believed that the USA would lose several cities but had enough ICBM superiority to destroy both Russia and China. This was, of course, horrifying, and the educated elites who came to power with the Kennedy government in 1961 were horrified by it. The Kennedy and Johnson administrations adopted a no-first-use policy (which was kept secret and which contradicted the stated NATO doctrine), and spent the next six years playing for time, while the USSR acquired a second-strike capability, after which point the Cold War was bound to play out as a mutual deterrence game. Achieving this new equilibrium (during a period over which the Cuban missile crisis happened and the USA’s involvement in Vietnam began), obviously required Kennedy, Johnson and McNamara to systematically plan for the USA to lose its missile dominance, and to overrule the substantial military lobby in favour of using nuclear weapons before the USSR acquired second-strike capability.
Furthermore, when Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 (in circumstances which made it look very much as if the responsibility lay with the Cuban government, and thereby with the Soviets), Lyndon Johnson’s immediate priority was to ensure that a train of events was not set in place which might end in his losing control of the country’s slide into nuclear war; in a telephone conversation recruiting members to the Warren Commission, he actually said ” this is a question that has a good many more ramifications than on the surface and we’ve got to take this out of the arena where they’re testifying that Khrushchev and Castro did this and did that and chuck us into a war that can kill 40 million Americans in an hour”.
So does this mean that the John Birch Society had it right? Well basically of course not. Although on the specific facts of what happened during the 1960s, your average Bircher is a lot closer to the objective truth than, say, David Aaronovitch, the worldview that sees the actions of Kennedy, Johnson and McNamara as a treasonous stab in the back of the American military rather than a scrambled and deeply honourable attempt to literally save the world, is totally skewed – the Bircher view is made up of real events, but it’s got the wrong background music playing behind it, like one of those joke film trailers.
This is why I’m basically a relativist about a lot of things; if you lot can put your Richard Dawkins books down for a minute and perhaps save that hilarious joke about stepping out of a ninth floor window, I might get a breath to explain that the whole point about postmodernism is not that all interpretations are as good as any others, it’s about recognising that the choice of “mood music” is at least as important as the physical facts of what happened, and that this relative importance, paradoxically is an objective fact. To take a topical example, it’s very clear that a lot more than twelve million people are under threat from a 2 degrees centigrade increase in global temperature, and that such an increase in temperature, if it occurs, will largely be as a result of policy choices taken by Western policymakers in full knowledge of the effects they will have. I don’t hear the same music playing behind these more or less uncontroversial statements that Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping does, but one has to realise that Miles’ Law is applicable here (“where you stand, depends on where you sit”). To take another example, consider the outright impossibility of getting a sensible discussion of any subject related to the Middle East; both sides are watching the same movie, but the minor key orchestra hits and string tremeloes aren’t showing up synchronised to the same characters.
All of which is preliminary to the announcement that a couple of weeks ago, probably on that interminable Cornel West sublime and funky love thread, CT logged up its 250,000th comment. This is a large enough dataset for Kieran to get working on, and in the New Year we’ll be able to tell you if the experiment with comments has been a success. I kid, I kid, of course. Congratulations. A happy festive season to all our readers, contributors and commenters, whether you are celebrating Christmas, Hanukah, Eid, Diwali, Kwanzaa, Yül or just the stern exercise of your own rationality. And a happy New Year too. We’ve got rhythm, we’ve got music, we’ve got you guys, who could ask for anything more? I leave you with this semi-connected Youtube link.
 Still finding it strange that so many hard-line anti-relativist types choose Newtonian gravity as their favourite example of something that’s objectively true rather than a particular description that happens to be convenient for a subset of practical purposes.
 Paradoxically, that is, for people who enjoy puzzle books and who find Russell’s Paradox more enlightening than, say, a couple of ounces of mushrooms. Perhaps if Wittgenstein had been a slightly more robust and less well-brought-up character, he could just have told such characters to “fuck off”, and he could have saved himself a whole book and saved the taxpayer a small percentage of the last fifty years of higher education funding for philosophy departments.
 Who are often exactly the same individuals as militant anti-relativists, “brights”, the Decent Left and other impedimenta to a sensible discussion of nearly any subject into which the word “Enlightenment” can be shoehorned; I have a lot of time for Martin Gardner and Douglas Hofstadter’s books, but my god they didn’t half set a couple of hares running.