It’s not hard to understand why the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, took the unprecedented decision to seek an indictment of Israel’s prime minister and defence minister. To borrow from Bob Dylan, the times have changed, and sometimes you don’t need to be a weatherman to see just which way the wind is blowing.

The year is 2024, not 1994: if the ICC simply sticks to going after Africans on behalf of the West while Gaza is being flattened, most or all countries in Africa will simply pull out. The West, after all, is no longer the only game in town when it comes to international institutions, and the Brics organisation has gone from a mere acronym to a project dozens of countries are clamouring to join. Moral considerations on the parts of Karim Khan or others at the ICC are likely a factor as well, but the main dynamic is structural: if it continues to sit on its hands, the ICC as a bureaucracy will simply cease to exist.

The American political system has responded to this act of defiance with a collective howl of rage. Several senior members of Congress had already issued a letter, threatening all members of the ICC with severe sanctions. And afterwards they doubled down: family members of judges and workers became fair game, as senators proposed they be banned from the US.

There is, to put it bluntly, something truly suicidal in the American political class choosing this particular moment — the very worst imaginable — to try to prosecute a war against the ICC and international law in general. Its ammo stocks are almost depleted, it is facing a truly terrifying shortage of sailors, soldiers and marines, and it has a rickety, insufficient industrial base to keep even a 300-ship navy going. If the Americans once spoke softly and carried a big stick, today it’s more accurate to say they are yelling loudly while waving a twig around.

In and of themselves, these ICC prosecutions aren’t a particularly big danger to Israel, and certainly not to America. While many European nations would probably arrest Israeli officials with ICC warrants — Norway has already said it would — indictments against Americans are not forthcoming anytime soon, and arresting senior American figures would definitely be a step too far for a country like Norway or Belgium. But this ICC debacle is almost certain to inflame a much deeper, more intractable problem hidden inside the American body politic, one of which US politicians seem serenely unaware. Swiftly followed by riots, civil strife and even revolution, it is one of the most dangerous problems a society can have. Its name is the failure of mimesis.

Human cultures — like human languages — propagate between generations through a process of imitation. The Greek word “mimesis” means precisely that — imitation — though it should be understood more like “re-representation”, rather than mere copying. A person who studies classical music under the great masters and then composes his own magnum opus is not copying a sheet of music; he has absorbed the craft and the essence of the art form, and that allows him to compose something new. A child who learns to speak English from his parents will not speak exactly the same as they did — language shifts even within the span of a human lifetime — but through the act of mimesis, he is still the carrier of a living language.

None of the above is hard to understand, but the kicker here is that what goes for language or classical music also goes for societal and political norms. For a society to actually maintain basic function over time, the younger generations have to be brought into its values and mores, internalising them and making them their own. In normal times, this happens more or less automatically; a medieval peasant generally doesn’t have to spare a lot of thought to the question of whether his children will inherit proper peasant values or not.

“For a society to actually maintain basic function over time, the younger generations have to be brought into its values .”

In certain cases, however, mimesis breaks down completely. To take one example, peasant cultural mores that had been stable in Russia for hundreds of years started to rapidly break down towards the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. The reasons were fairly straightforward: if you are no longer a peasant, but an industrial worker crammed into crummy tenement room with 12 other people, working in a dirty, dangerous factory for 14 hours a day, what use are those peasant values and mores? At that point, the moral and cultural universe inhabited by peasants in the countryside is neither something you’re in a position to successfully imitate, nor would it even do you any good if you did.

In America today, mimesis is rapidly breaking down for reasons that are fairly similar. The US gerontocracy came of age at a time when the US was by far the most dominant military force in the world, and tiny countries like Yemen couldn’t possibly hope to go up against the US Navy. This was an era when a rising tide lifted all boats, when the US was a haven of free-market economics, where there were jobs and opportunities to be had around every corner, and when most of the world genuinely looked up to America as a shining city on the hill. Housing was affordable, jobs were good and plentiful, and college didn’t cost an arm and a leg.

This world is simply nothing like the one faced by someone in their early-20s today. The US economy is now sluggish and stagnant. The military is undermanned, under-equipped and demoralised. Housing is horrifyingly expensive, mortgages are all but unaffordable to the average member of Gen Z, and steadily growing homeless camps are a feature of most large American cities.

What this all adds up to is a situation very similar to the one facing the Russian migrants forced into the cities at the turn of the century. Back then, there was no longer enough land to be a peasant farmer, and the new world of smokestacks and overcrowded tenement buildings was one that their parents and grandparents could offer approximately zero meaningful guidance for. The old culture broke apart, and what replaced it, initially at least, was… nothing. When mimesis fails, when cultural transmission from one generation to the next breaks apart due to neglect or environmental strain, it deteriorates into a vacuum. And that vacuum often ends up being filled with very strange and violent things.

Which brings us back to the ICC, and the true danger of America’s response to Khan’s behaviour. Without even knowing what they’re doing, US political elites seem intent on forcing the total, catastrophic failure of mimesis within American society. They’ve hollowed out their own economy and exported most of their industries to China. They’ve presided over an economic transition that makes things such as “family values” a joke: what use are those when you can’t even afford to rent a one-bedroom apartment? Finally, they are now smashing up the political underpinnings that their own society rests on: if you teach all these kids that we in the West may have our faults, but we are on the side of human rights, it’s a very bad idea to declare war on the system of international law.

The issue here isn’t hypocrisy, it is the creation of a vacuum: kids who have been trying to imitate a culture supposedly based on respect for human rights and international law are simply going to stop bothering to do so if it becomes too obvious they’re being played for suckers. In area after area, politicians in the West are tearing up the floorboards inside the very building they live in and shoving it all into the fireplace, replacing those old norms and values with absolutely nothing.

Lindsey Graham, Tom Cotton, and the other senators now baying for blood in the hunt on the ICC aren’t actually going to bother coming up with a new story, a new set of norms or values for younger Americans to try to imitate. They simply intend to smash the old, replace it with nothing, and then marvel as this produces what it has always produced: discord, violence and, ultimately, political rebellion.

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Source: UnHerd Read the original article here: