When George Packer gets bored, I get scared: It Means he’s in the mood for war

Greg Grandin called me on Friday.

Greg: What are you doing?

Me: Working on my Salon column.

Greg: What’s it on?

Me: George Packer.

Greg: Low-hanging fruit.

Me: Did you see that article he wrote in The New Yorker, where he says he’s bored of American politics?

Greg: Uh oh. Bombs away.

Me: That’s the first line of my column! “When George Packer gets bored, I get worried. It means he’s in the mood for war.”

So here is said column, just out this morning. Packer did say he was getting bored of American politics, so I examine how his political ennui so often gives him an itch for heroism, sacrifice, and war.

Packer belongs to a special tribe of ideologically ambidextrous scribblers — call them political romantics — who are always on the lookout for a certain kind of experience in politics. They don’t want power, they don’t seek justice, they’re not interested in interests. They want a feeling. A feeling of exaltation and elation, unmoored from any specific idea or principle save that of sacrifice, of giving oneself over to the nation and its cause.

It’s not that political romantics seek the extinction of the self in the purgative fire of the nation-state. It’s that they see in that hallucination an elevation of the self, a heightening of individual feeling, an intensification of personal experience. That’s what makes them so dangerous. They think they’re shopping for the public good, but they’re really in the market for an individual experience. An experience that often comes with a hefty price tag.

Perhaps that’s why, after the Charlie Hebdo murders, Packer was so quick to man the ideological ramparts.

You can finish it here.



  1. jonnybutter April 26, 2015 at 1:49 pm | #
  2. py April 26, 2015 at 6:14 pm | #


    Can’t forget Lewis Lapham’s memorable putdown of this miserable mediocrity (“softheaded”).

  3. George April 26, 2015 at 11:51 pm | #

    Surely Packer is a liberal in the mode of Trilling or Berlin rather than a Schmittian political romantic. He doesn’t want a bloodless liberalism, a la Rawls, but it’s a stretch to say that his aestheticism and his patriotism make him a warmonger. He was ambivalent about Iraq, went there and reported on it, and remained ambivalent. His father’s story, recounted in Blood of the Liberals, is also pertinent. And I thought The Unwinding was an artful attempt to link the fate of individuals to a broader story about the collapse of institutions. In short, I don’t think he’s deserving of such a critique, and I don’t understand the hostility, but you make some thought provoking points, so thanks.

  4. Mushin April 27, 2015 at 7:10 am | #

    Cory I read through the entirety and attempted to respond to the Salon Post and my verbosity was rejected. Everyone consider’s what I say verbose which is interesting listening professorial prostitutes in higher ed. If it fits it is applicable and not a characterization I have of you. I am amazed they allow you to teach at all.

    NO APOLOGY 2016 NO/KNOW VOTE Citizen Arrest Political Insanity

    Cory I don’t know George Packard anymore than I know you to be fair. I resist political conversations until now…you have engaged my voice…thank you…I’ve been eating my Spinach so here is my Popeye Satire!

    Normal is now weird in this American Informational Hog Way of Informational enlightened narcissistic American Political Economics. At 64 years old I am going to dye my hair blue just to join the in crowd of being weird with millennial’s. They say I would look great and being you never really see yourself other than through the eyes on another? Why not? The familial roots of our human coexistence has been high jacked by “Family Dynasties” unreal programming of Hollywood’s Wag the Tail Wars that was a humorous family sitcoms of internal traumas to now Dynasties 24/7/365 power politics of global business sweeping the world (The Economist 4.15.15).

    I personally quit voting for the lesser of two American evils in 1980 when I was a 30 years old and at the top of my 1%er in lived world political experience campaigning for the “Citizens Party” advocating; USA C21 Energy Policy, Ecological Planning Limiting Growth, and Full Deployment by Employment of American Citizenry as an ecological solution in designing a future world. Barry Commoner’s NYC Radio AD was “Bullshit there is a choice in this election.” Nothing could be closer to the truth hearing barbs in analysis paralysis of turkeys checkmating American leadership in a global waterfall of denial in political economics architectural horrendous calamities we created, including Nuclear Proliferation in the last 60 years and Global Warming in the last 35 years.

    The Club of Rome “Limits of Growth” (72) was about scenarios three positive and three negative. The report by Jorgen Randers in 2102 was the 2052 scientific projected forecast of unintended consequences of “Stalemate” short terminism (denial) referenced in your article and let’s get a war started to settle the situation. Is the forecasted projections a certainty? That simply depends on if you believe in science 120V60W electrification of planet earth operating at 189% inefficiencies or self gratification of mass media’s Coke Branding addictive Cool Aid in mass marketing killing us with sugar obesity like caterpillars? We drink the economic cool aid and are consumers, end users, and citizenry. Stop buying Coke bullsh$t is a good starter. Europeans already think we are criminals after the 2008 Great Recession when the Banking Industry experienced Nirvana lying to Congress, the Justice Department beefed up boarder security, and the Executive Office of Capitalistic Imperialism FRB evolved the revolving open door policy with Wall Street and American Family Dynasties called The White House.

    My stance in 2016 is NO/KNOW VOTE CAMPAIGN at this early stage of an already heated election cycle of money chasers in political theater and arming psychotics. My deliberate intention is to conserve my own human sanity and turn off print, magazines, radio and TV so I don’t commit suicide listening to bullsh$t in this American Family saga of false advertisement, misinformation, and Public/Private RICO Criminal Regulatory Capture Rent Control that both the Green Party and Tea Party are all b$tching about like mad rabid dogs in the street ready to kill one another. The American Family Dynasties play these strings like conducting a symphony. I say unite your not that far apart once you eliminate the political clowning around of politicians owned by special interests domestic and foreign called OECD Economic Development of Coke entertainment enterprises passing sugar legally that is worst than cocaine, running the entire fast food industry in politics based in greed?

    The Supreme Court made it perfectly clear in Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98 (2000) that they are the political appointed arbiters for the imperial dynasties, unelected, politically appointed, and leaders in the “Interpretation Gaming via American Bar Association.” Our number one problem is these political clowns in Black Robes claiming they represent sacrosanct notions of ancient common law jurist prudence of human justice while operating a RICO Criminal Corporate Plutocracy for American Family’s Mobsters of Private Ownership.

    Bankers, Insurance Companies (AIG), Multi-Nationals Corporations, Foreign States Invasions, Privatization of Our Intellectual Innovative Communitarian Assets are all gone and sold on the cheap to Corporate Public/Private Globalization via IMF WB next iteration PPT Washington D.C. Consensus Group of family owned dynasties. The Coke Brand cream de creme in American fast food diet has lost its compass of being Gourmet Chef’s of “We the People.” Somewhere in this narcissistic patriarchy we forgot who the customers, end user and citizenry are as participative owners not renters in co-designing the household budget called the global economy.

    These political economic unlawful bastards don’t care about you, your family, your neighborhood, and much less any small business enterprise with an innovative notion as a solution. The entire western capitalistic political discourse makes me sick to my stomach as an American veteran. Pew Snowden Report reveled 91% of Americans distrust social media, corporations and government. We should be celebrating dancing in an American Spring! This complaint of violating privacy is closing in as a unanimous agreement on FCC Cartel of Disneyland’s Informational Highway. Now, we are ready to deploy rapid response self-organizing in human communication based in commitments to real changes launching V3WPerCloud today. Last week 52% of American professional military service personal are dissatisfied with employment, another tipping point in overwhelm; add WWII, Korean, Viet Nam and Gulf War vets, and you have a body politic for ending war, and transforming the entire military security complex overnight. Snowden will become a historic figure in human history greater than Abraham Lincoln, he freed the entire world of our mythological mistakes in empire building.

    I say anyone who wants war and dreams of sleeping with guns as a way to solve social conflicts, let them have it, it’s a free country. Send them over to the front lines immediately to get beheaded. Let’s give away Texas to the gun lobby and Christian fanatics in our society as a coming State of the Union Reality TV Program of Zombies. Let all the 2nd Amendment idiots and racist trailer trash hillbillies and red neck hunters live with King George the Cowboy routine saying “Bring It On.” We could save the boarder patrol fence expense making all the crime families in the drug wars fight it out on TV and get global legal funding by Hollywood. Yea, let’s raise the bar on reality TV programing.

    Let me get back to ignoring bullsh$t’s greed for power, prestige, fame, popularity and money, money, money and more money that isn’t worth the paper its printed on. Our only basic trust is coordination of interactive social relations in human commitments. For the most part our daily lived world experience has very little to do with money. Now the political conversations has turned our political civil discourse into a money game show.

    VOTE NO/KNOW and your voting for “WE THE PEOPLE.”

    Meet you on the edge where real lived world experience means something and still riding horses is fun in play, and we are doing fine at our campfire with gourmet chef’s enjoying laughter at this drama under the Milky Way as our canopy. The reality is we are all star dust and all the units of humanity belong to one loving universe, not two!

    Hard Working Man American DJ Rant on Domingo 4.26.2015
    Little Folk Music for American’s

    (Serious Side Bar Note: I actually have a Denver District Court Case to back up that assertion of this American family assertion; six years of litigation losing $280 million as a small business person. I am not Ohio’s Joe Plumber looking for 15 minutes of fame in this media circus as an accidental small business activist. Believe It or Not I actually believe in the common goodness of the real American Family Citizenry of We the People. Nothing short of exercising “Citizen Arrest” complaints of corporate regulatory capture operating this cronyism of rent control Plutocracies Cartel’s like American Family Insurance Group or Brain Roberts Comcast nightmare is going to do the trick.)

    • Corey Robin April 27, 2015 at 5:15 pm | #

      Mushin: I’ve asked you via email and in private to keep your comments shorter and more on topic. Now I’m asking you publicly. Please: you’ll find that one word is more powerful than 30, and do the math from there.

  5. Joel in Oakland April 27, 2015 at 2:51 pm | #

    FWIW exhilaration is the flip side of fear, once one believes in one’s competence to take on the risk. It’s a variety of Peak Experience and can have a sort of addictive quality. After every war one comes across a few stories of combat vets who can’t adjust to civilian life because combat brought them peak experiences of focus, self-control, satisfaction – and most importantly, moments of aggression while in the midst of high risk – and nothing in civilian life comes near.

    Of course athletes report somewhat similar experiences, leading to the somewhat derisive label “adrenaline junkie” for repeating particular types of fairly carefully regulated stress because of the positive feeling states both during and afterward. Endorphins, dopamine, etc are of course involved in this flooding experience that helps clean up the neurochemical residue from anxiety, depression, etc.

    Some people on the attention deficit – hyperactivity spectrum report similar experiences of focus and calm when hunting or fishing, states that are difficult for them to achieve in everyday activities. You might think that sitting in a hunting blind for hours in the dark and early dawn, more or less silent and motionless, would be last thing someone with ADHD would tolerate, much less use to regulate themself.

    This isn’t a diagnosis of George Packer but an attempt to widen the context.

  6. Glenn April 27, 2015 at 4:40 pm | #

    The American identity on display:

    “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning”, by Chris Hedges.

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