Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Written by Ron Suskind in the New York Times, October 2004 (though I think the principle outlined pre-dates this significantly in its manifestation), quotes attributed, perhaps, to Karl Rove. This is termed the “Reality-based community”. I'm a big fan of Rove, and am intrigued by the notion he paints, and the problems that lie therein for the modern historian.
a) Is this true?
I’ve been reading a bit of modern history in the middle east region recently, playing catch up on the past 40 years or so of political and military movement, the people and their motives and their actions. One trend that is apparent, dishearteningly, is the way information of events, then news, then analysis, then a delay, then interviews of the involved, then reassessment within a wider context finally results in a public picture that is probably as close to the actuality of the event as is possible to record, but with gaps. Put another way, contemporary news is highly inaccurate and the only rational remedy is patience, which even then doesn’t cure the darkness. This most clearly struck me in the book I’m reading at the moment, from where I originally found the Rove quote, Invisible History: Afghanistan’s Untold Story; it takes 240 pages to reach 2001 (most of this from the 1960’s onwards, in exhaustive, proper noun and acronym detail) and just 90 to cover post 9/11. There is a marked decrease in the quality of the picture presented post 9/11; more unknowns and more speculation, I assume because those involved don’t have the distance to talk about it yet. The quote is true; an empirical-reality-based worldview is behind reality.
b) Extended metaphor
I learnt many things from my Latin teacher, David Thompson, one of which is the extended metaphor. In the Aeneid, Turnus prowls around the Trojan camp like a wolf around a pen; but if you extend the metaphor (or, in this case, simile), the Trojans are sheep. Latin classes were full of useless information like this. I always believed that public school education consisted solely of this kind of teaching.
If the American Empire is an actor, the world is the stage and we are the audience. So far so good. If the production is of a high quality, the audience must work hard to understand the play; the intricate speech, nuances of look and movement, patterns of ideas that run through lines, scenes and the play as a whole; likely it can only be fully grasped sometime after the performance ends. Still holds true.
The actors do not break the fourth wall, even if they let us “in” through soliloquy, we are “in” on their terms and they are most certainly not “out”. The Empire feeds us with “news” like an honest confidant.
But something we rarely ask of ourselves is; is the narrator/author reliable? Or, are we ourselves a good audience? Do we afford the appropriate levity and consideration to each scene? These are interesting questions in themselves, but, of course, they do not solve the problem presented of being, necessarily, behind the fact of the events of the play.
How does the audience see Iago for what he is from the moment he opens his mouth for the first time?
How can the audience prevent Iago from creating his own reality and watching as the victims themselves act out his self-fulfilling-prophesy/dream?
I don’t quite, yet, believe the Empire to be equatable to Iago, and thus I do not see the need for it to be stopped for there is great potential to do great good through a one-power system (and perhaps an equal potential to do great harm, eh?). But for my intellectual curiosity, sparring with Karl Rove’s logic is a decent way to spend my time, and finding some way to understand the Empire now, and its future, even if through abstract metaphors, should be interesting.
Sunday, September 26, 2010
In an attempt to define bullshit and theorise about its uses and meanings, Harry Frankfurt, the Princeton philosopher, has differentiated between bullshit and lies in his book On Bullshit, and concluded that bullshit can be more dangerous than lying.
Bullshit is more than a word; it is a chronic widespread system of rhetoric and representation that mystifies the truth. It has increasingly become a way of communication not only in the private sphere but has become part and parcel of Western propaganda.
Bingo! "Lawmaker" is a way of justifying the political power-structure in the face of increasing discontentment at mainstream politics not providing economic recovery nor moral example (even if both are, most likely, ultimately out of their control, subservient as they are to the tides of international trade and power, but they are leaders nonetheless and thus targets of citizen discontentment). Perhaps the word "politician" is simply, after centuries of wear and tear, suddenly not fit garb for the spokesmen of industry? Or, perhaps more sinisterly, there is meant to be a direct allusion to a stronger, more muscular and straight talking profession; the law enforcer. The twin hammers of the corporate elite; lawmaker and lawgiver. Hmm.
This, I find a little worrying because, even if it is subconscious and I am overly sensitive to weasel words, the more direct alignment of the politician and the political process with that of the legal one smacks of steps towards fascism.
Recently I'm quite interested in the fate of nations where the checks on power-accretion are gradually eroded, Star Wars being the classic sci-fi example (and Lucas makes direct allusions to both Hitler's Germany and Nixon's USA). The problem is time; I have too many questions and not enough knowledge. Is it a one way street? Do nations always go bust, through revolution or war, or can they come back from the brink? Do they see-saw? Find an equilibrium and oscillate? One thing I think is for sure, with the steady emergence of China, Russia, Brazil, India and others, Western hegemony is in decline and this means increased competition, and competition means a threat to existing power structures of all forms, and...
Suu Kyi said the same thing. Peas in a pod, her and Palpatine.
All this said, one must grudgingly accept that supporting such power structures is essential for participation in Great Game. As much as one might campaign for disengagement, there is no practical means to do so without either being strategically worthless (ie. dirt poor) or surrender sovereignty to live under a shield (the Japanese, yet who, thanks to this increase in competition, are being dragged into the Game of late - Obama vs Okinawa).
I read Tariq Ali's book on US policy in South America, primarily Venezuela, and saw this great lecture on Youtube. He doesn't really point a way forward, but if only for his excellent knowledge and "more rounded wit" I find comfort in knowing there are people like him around. Knowledge and acceptance seem to be about the only ways to get to grips with this.