I know, I know: even liberals are supposed to hate Lewis Lapham. He’s a one-note, dreary hater of everything America stands for! He’s the very model of an ivory tower, limousine liberal! And he’s clueless about The Beatles!
Even so, I have found his Notebook in Harpers (the magazine he refuses to leave) to be consistently excellent. A few months back he devised a strong defense of George W. Bush—all it required was the will to poison the planet. This month he discusses two books that suggest that “war is an idea”. It isn’t natural aggression; it’s a cultural practice that could conceivably become as rare and unthinkable as human slavery.
Lapham makes a convincing case for his authors, marking the rise of pacifism and the increasingly burdensome cost of war in lives, money and the environment.
But what caps it are the last two paragraphs. If war is unsuitable for human existence, what can be done with it? Out of left field comes Lapham’s answer—his newfound love for World of Warcraft:
I was reminded of the oversight soon after the Rainbow Room briefing when I came across the Internet game World of Warcraft, said to be played by as many as 8.5 million combatants located at all points of the geopolitical compass who pay $15 a month to pursue their dreams of godlike power in the online world of Azeroth. My guest pass granted access to the kingdoms Mulgore and Durotar, brought with it directions to the battlefields in the Burning Crusade, explained how to spot the differences between a Troll, a Silithid insect, and an Orc, when to beware the Blood Elves in Azshara, where to gather magic spells with which to semble the Scepter of the Shifting Sands. Lost for an hour in the Elwynn Forest among the Murloc Oracles of Crystal Lake, I began to hope for rescue by Kissinger or Brzezinski, operating as the online avatars Bismarck and Maximus, sending reinforcements (in the personae of dwarves and shadow priests) from their computers in Washington.
Here at last was the world in which they could do what the Romans could do, the one manufactured by Blizzard Entertainment drifting in the same orbit as the one imagined by Carl von Clausewitz, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., and George W. Bush. With the small difference, of course, that on earth some of the game players bleed, and it doesn’t do them much good to know that Bismarck and Maximus think they’re virtual-reality toys battling the warrior monks of Azeroth.
Pick up this month’s Harpers for the full Notebook. I thought the Lewis Lapham lunchbox gag from The Simpsons was hilarious enough. But even the fake DVD commentary guys from McSweeney’s couldn’t match the bizarre reality of Lapham playing Warcraft. It certainly makes for good copy.