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Righteous stuff

The evolutionary psychologist Kevin B. MacDonald has a thesis, outlined in The Culture of Critique, that the Jews have an evolutionary group strategy characterised by high ethnocentrism and intra-group solidarity that leads them to support and develop levelling political ideas, such as Marxism. This approach contrasts to European societies, societies characterised by hierarchy, individual competition, and social harmony. What if you wanted to know about European societies, what is the equivalent to The Culture of Critique for Europeans? Answer: Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff.

The Right Stuff tells the tale of the original Mercury astronauts. Their selection and careers up to the point they became astronauts were superintended by the USAF—the pilots being drawn from the USAF test-pilot pool; and the USAF cultivated white Protestant bloodlines with as much diligence as if they oversaw noble houses in Dune—with particular consideration for, say, Christian Scientists who had attained social respectability in New England but not elsewhere. If the Jews dominate Harvard, as MacDonald says, then the white Protestants dominate the USAF.

The pilots themselves were literal knights in shining armour, as depicted above; and they worked with in a highly competitive hierarchical environment where individuals jockeyed for position—and yet, from a social harmony perspective, it was was implicitly verboten to mention words like “courage”, “death”, “heroism”; only vulgar people, people without “the right stuff”, such as journalists, would actually mention “death” and “bravery”.

The typical pilot would remain laconic at all times, no matter what the conditions—and his laconicism would be tinged with slight irony, so that if an engine on his commercial jet burst into flames he would come on the intercom and say, “Well, folks, this is your captain speaking, we’re on approach to Idlewild and it looks like he-he the starboard engine is just playing up a little. So what we’re going do is take her out over the water, nice and gentle, and he-he just dump a little of the ol’ fuel we won’t be needing anymore. Then our lovely ladies will be coming down the aisle to help you he-he ‘assume the position’ and then we’ll bring her down in a controlled manner. Thank you for your attention.” Note that this is the opposite to the neurotic Woody Allen, to the media attitude—itself a very Jewish institution.

The test pilots also developed a quasi-mystical approach to life that was connected to their hierarchical and existential occupation: pilots either had “the right stuff” or not; it was an either/or proposition and a person could be shown not to have the righteous stuff at any time, as when his aircraft missed the landing strip on the carrier, fell sixty feet to the ocean below, and glugg-glugged down to Davey Jones’s locker. There were no technical or mechanical errors, it just turned out, “Ed was a fine pilot, but I don’t understand how he could have been so stupid” (subtext: he didn’t have the right stuff—though we never talk about “the right stuff”, the first rule of Fight Club is…).

The idea is very similar to the Calvinist notion that there is an Elect, and the Elect tests its worthiness for salvation through worldly acts—if you make it in life, you must be saved (the antinomian flip side is that perhaps the Elect can commit any act they wish and not be condemned to Hell—you were always saved, always righteous; hence Hogg’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner). The whole USAF ethos, particularly among the test pilots, was suffused with a Böhme-like mysticism; and Wolfe highlights how Germanic it all was, with words like “beruf” (“occupation”) for the nature of being an astronaut—and references to German engineers dressed in Hawaiian shirts at the Jolly Rodger Motel near sultry Cape Canaveral in raucous renditions of the Horst Wessel Lied, the purple twilight haze and the piña coladas and the rocket’s red glow behind them.

As Wolfe observes, the military did not like New York—being filled with “gray people”; and the astronauts only warmed to the city when they had ticker-tape parades through its streets and were showered with torn up telephone directories turned into confetti. They were the knights who jousted with the Soviets in the sky, in Wolfe’s view—and these were the people they protected, and who adored them for it. Yet the subtext is fairly obvious: the men from small town Protestant America who joined the USAF and became astronauts did not feel comfortable in New York—in the Jewish city, with its different ethos; its talkative, neurotic ethos was unrighteous.

They were similarly ruffled when civil rights lawyers arrived and began to subtly hassle—write copious notes on their legal pads—the selection officers to find a negro astronaut. How was this righteous? You either have the right stuff or no—it cannot be manipulated. Hence, to save embarrassment, the hierarchy selected an entire cohort to be astronauts, so that they could include the negro—so in this case, affirmative action meant everyone got lucky; yet it was unrighteous.

When you read The Handmaid’s Tale you have to understand that when Atwood says “Gilead” she really means the seven men pictured above, not some illiterate yokel who refuses to let his wife read YA fiction because Jezussss told him to. When they say “WASP America” or “it’s so white” or “white supremacy”, they mean the Mercury Seven. This is not to say all the astronauts were devout in the exoteric sense; only John Glenn was genuinely pious, preached to the others about the way they played around with their “cookies”. Yet this was not really about formal religion: your righteousness was not demonstrated by church attendance, it was demonstrated in the pilot’s seat; it was demonstrated in the way you never flinched, even as the ship went down, “I’ve tried ‘A’, I’ve tried ‘B’, I’ve tried ‘C’, what else can I try?”—and he stays like that even as he crashes into the high sierra.

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