You might be confused by the headline, because unless you’re an engineering geek like YouTuber Destin Sandlin, you wouldn’t have much of a clue what “laminar” means. In a few non-engineer words, “laminar” means the ability of a flow of liquid or gas to be self-sticky and coherent, versus turbulent, which mixes up the flow into a gazillion bouncing bits.
One of the more interesting features of extreme laminar flow is its ability to turn back time. Watch the video.
Societies can work the same way. Introduce some dye into an ultra laminar-flow society and churn, and you get a mix. Then unchurn and watch them separate–literally watch things go backwards.
This has been proven again and again to be true. Inject some “democracy” into places like Iraq and watch what happens. It unchurns. Inject “capitalism” and “liberty” into the old Soviet Union, and you get Russia and its orbital states unchurning them into the same old tyrannical system. The names change, but the bits remain the same.
And what about America? Can we really “Make America Great Again” by unchurning our society to go back to a simpler time, when God, family, country were supreme; when kids respected parents; when the things that Archie and Edith Bunker sang about were true? Did progressives and rabid liberals inject something into our nation and churn it, and can we really unchurn it out?
This is the central question we’re seeing acted out in our reactionary and counter-reactionary times. It defines our politics and our social battles. It’s what Josh Hammer wrote about at the beginning of 2019.
Ultimately, what we seek to conserve is nothing less than the Founding ideals of the American republic: A negative liberty-based moral order (as represented by the Declaration) that is America’s exceptional gift to the Western political canon, and a carefully delimited governmental structure that secures both that very moral order and the inherent sovereignty of the citizenry (as represented by “We the People” of which the Constitution’s Preamble speaks). America is both an abstract idea and a concrete nation with a distinct people, formed at a peculiar point in Western history under idiosyncratic circumstances.
The task ahead is daunting. Ultimately, however, we need not be fearful. Our principles are eternal—and eternal principles always eventually prevail.
Are our principles eternal, and do they always eventually prevail? That would seem to indicate that America is laminar, and we can unchurn those things that have polluted us out of the flow, remove them, correct and move on.
I submit that America is not laminar at all. America the turbulent is our creed. We’ve always been turbulent. There’s no churning back before the American Revolution, the Civil War, the Industrial Revolution, the Mass Immigration either World War, Vietnam, or Watergate. These things fundamentally changed how American society proceeds–they are turbulent because we are turbulent.
It’s comforting to think that we can turn the handle in the opposite direction and watch our melting pot unmelt, so we can remove what we don’t like and go forward. In other societies, when this happens, normally it’s not the best things that get preserved, but the worst. As much as eternal principles of good, liberty, and charity prevail, human nature, evil, and the proclivity of man to sin against man are also eternal and also tend to prevail, if those things exist in a laminar society.
Turbulence is not a bug; it’s a feature. America doesn’t unchurn the bits we don’t like, we blend them up and make something new. We disrupt. We ingest and create anew.
We cannot make America laminar, or indeed “Make America Great Again” by adhering to nationalist principles. But we can’t submit to globalism to the point where the definition of America is a miasmic jelly either.
The biggest problems in America express themselves through turbulence. We have to work these things out in a messy way, fighting gridlock in our government, corruption in our corporations, and lawlessness in our neighborhoods.
There is every possibility that we can go sideways and end up worse tomorrow than we are today, but I do have faith that the right side will prevail, at least in the short term. The “negative liberty” Josh referred to has to be restored to make the turbulence work. Our biggest problem is that the government will fill every negative space in our society, where the moderating groups and influences–churches, civic groups, neighborhoods–used to do the mixing.
Government is not a churn, it’s super-glue. Everything it touches sets up into concrete. The biggest contribution the Trump administration has made to America so far has been the assiduous effort to dismantle what Steve Bannon called the “administrative state.” Tariffs can be undone; the balance between the executive and legislative branches can be swung and unswung. Those things in our government are pretty laminar.
But once government has filled all the crevices and crannies in our society, and calcified them, there’s no room to create, or to disrupt. Disruption is how turbulent America makes itself great.
How does that affect you and me?
Simple. Embrace the turbulence. Love your liberal friends, and love your conservative friends with whom you don’t agree. Love the Trump-lovers and the Sandernistas. Love the AOC fans. Agree to disagree on some things (sorry, that doesn’t include agreeing abortion, but it may include how to best eliminate abortion.)
I think it’s instructive that a large number of our young people think capitalism is bad. I think it’s instructive that many of them think free speech only applies to speech they like (the rest being “hate speech”). I think it’s instructive that many “churched” people put their faith in the president over God. We can learn from these people and their viewpoints.
I am certainly not always right, and that’s the only thing I know for certain. How certain are you of your own thoughts and beliefs? Our society is based on the fact that we don’t all share one set of them–everyone has an opinion (just spend an hour on Twitter or Facebook).
In places not as great as America, the laminar society unchurns all the time, and those people want to come here to enter the turbulence. Let’s not make America like those places; even if we could, it would be a mistake to try.
America will come out of this current period of gridlock by messily fighting it out, but not by violence. Radicalization to the point of calling your fellow human beings “the enemy” and seeking to silence/ruin/harm them is how the Civil War began and became the bloodiest chapter in our nation’s history. If we try to unchurn America, that’s where we end up, with blood on our hands.
This is why I think it’s vitally important to call balls and strikes, to call out Fake News and the media’s biases. It’s also important to call out our leaders and our president and not give them the benefit of the doubt on everything they do, especially when the president demonstrates over and over his affection for lies and brutal dictators. What’s unacceptable should be called unacceptable and not coddled.
This is an interesting time to be alive, and in fact the best time for a human being anywhere in the world to live. Nobody would willingly go back in time to polio, or before modern conveniences, or even before iPhones. There’s only one way forward and it’s turbulent. I’m suspicious of anyone who claims the mantle of “unity.” I’m more suspicious of those who want to punish those who don’t go along with their version of it.
America cannot be made laminar, and more importantly, should not. I’d rather have a Trump churning up the disruption while removing government calcification than a “unifier” who tries to unchurn America. I know that’s not a perfect, or even a beautiful, choice, but our nation is messy and produces such things on a regular basis.
That’s why America is great, because we get to choose.
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