Sunday 13 April 2003

Neither sharp, nor precise

Burningbird wrote:

Thanks to Doc I found out about an exchange between Frank Paynter and Tom Shugart regarding Tom’s posting in response to Jonathon’s fundamentalism post. (Tom had a couple of additional postings on this, but the Blogger permalinks seem to be screwed up. Frank, also, has continued this. Jonathon is wisely staying out of this fest, choosing instead to write about less flammable issues.)

Actually, I wasn’t “wisely staying out of this fest,” I was blissfully unaware of it, having spent the week in Adelaide where a 28.8 modem connection constrained my Internet activities to checking email and posting a couple of entries to my own weblog. As for those “less flammable issues,” I can only assume that Burningbird is having a sly dig at my post about hunting and eating whales (if she’s not, I can’t begin to imagine what she’d classify as a truly flammable issue).

By Friday night I was feeling the same bone-tiredness that Pascale Soleil describes in her post, Fatigue:

I’m learning something new. In the past, I’ve been sleep-deprived, I’ve been stressed-out, I’ve been mentally and emotionally exhausted… but never before have I been literally BONE-TIRED. I am learning the meaning of true, bodily, physical fatigue.

I’d eaten out all week, so last night I planned to cook instead. When I looked at the refrigerator door, I realized I didn’t even have the energy to open it, let alone prepare a meal, so I trudged up to my second favorite restaurant (which is really now my favorite restaurant since the original favorite closed a month or two ago). After I’d ordered, I wanted nothing more than to lay my head down on the table and drift off to sleep. When my food arrived, I was too weary to do anything but pick at it. A couple of glasses of wine revived my spirits and I headed home to bed.

This morning, Sunday, I caught up on the fracas Burningbird mentioned, most particularly Frank Paynter’s statement:

I find myself in disagreement with my friend Tom Shugart. Tom and Jonathon Delacour have put themselves in what seems to me to be an awkward position — rooting for the Bush team. Tom seems to have been seduced by an image of representative democracy that went out the door when the Reichstag burned and the loyal opposition’s offices were seeded with anthrax spores.

I’m puzzled by the accusation that I’ve put myself in the awkward position of “rooting for the Bush team” since the post of mine to which Frank Paynter links, Against fundamentalisms, contains the following statements:

I have, however, consistently argued against unilateral military action and the pre-emptive strike, the policies which underpin the current war.

I believe that this war was never about Islamic terrorism but rather constitutes the first stage of implementing the strategy for US military and political dominance outlined in the first draft of Paul Wolfowitz’s 1992 Defense Planning Guidance.

Therefore I see the next essential steps as:

  • �Winning� the war (though I believe that under the current US leadership any �victory� contains the seeds of eventual defeat).
  • Getting rid of Bush & Co.

So, according to Frank Paynter, I’m rooting for the Bush team even though I’m against unilateral military action and the pre-emptive strike, I believe the war is stage one of the neo-Reaganite plan to maintain US hegemony, I don’t think the current US adminstration is capable of winning the peace, and I think it’s essential to get rid of Bush and Co.

Frank Paynter’s post might be a grubby play for attention, or he might have taken up residence in backwards Bizarro World, where Up is Down and Down is Up (and, dare I say it, Left is Right). Or perhaps he’s fallen under the spell of (former) Iraqi Minister for Information, Mohammed Said Sahaf, and is merely emulating Mo’s ability to recast reality by denying or dismissing any contradictory, irrefutable, and inconvenient facts.

The latter seems the most likely explanation, given two statements he made in the comments on Burningbird’s post:

“But I didn’t call Tom or Doc or Jonathon pro-Bush.”

“Really I didn’t call anyone pro-Bush!”

Earth to Paynter: in this context, to “root for” something and to be “pro”-something are functionally identical.

root pro-

1. To give audible encouragement or applause to a contestant or team; cheer.

2. To lend support to someone or something.

1. An argument or consideration in favor of something: weighing the pros and cons.

2. One who supports a proposal or takes the affirmative side in a debate.

In simple terms, “rooting for the Bush team” = “pro-Bush.” Whereas I am, and have always been, anti-Bush.

I’ve already devoted more time and energy to this than it deserves. There are other issues I’d rather be writing about but, just as it’s important to defend oneself against false accusations of racism, it’s equally important to refute wilfully-dishonest misrepresentations of one’s clearly stated views.

In a more recent post, Frank Paynter wrote that “this whole thread began for me in a critical assessment of  Tom’s assertions regarding the futility or inappropriateness of street demonstrations,” suggesting that the thread had perhaps begun “in the blog of that notorious whale noshing carnivore, Jonathon Delacour.” That’s correct, it started with the post “�always already writing about war” in which I challenged the the anti-war/peace movement to:

come up with something more sophisticated and useful than red-daubed faces, drumming, banal chants, puerile street theater, trite placards, histrionics, self-indulgent moralizing, and wishful thinking.

Tom Shugart amplified my argument in the thoughtful, well-written post to which Frank Paynter took exception:

it’s time to forget the peace marches. These actions now represent a colossal waste of energy. The energy needs to be directed instead toward the question of what kind of world order we want to build out of the chaos that has been inflicted upon the people of Iraq.

A million peace marchers pouring onto the streets every single day isn’t going to make a lick of difference in addressing this complex problem�other than creating more and more polarization. And guess who’s going to be on the losing side of that one.

I don’t have any interest in arguing with Frank Paynter—the gulf between our respective positions is simultaneously closer than he admits and too wide to bridge. In any case, his weblog posts on this issue strike me as the written (I can’t bring myself to say “literary”) equivalent of red-daubed faces, drumming, banal chants, puerile street theater, trite placards, histrionics, self-indulgent moralizing, wishful thinking and—a couple of characteristics I omitted from my original list—paranoia and conspiracy theory.

By describing September 11 as “our modern Reichstag in NYC in 2001,” Frank Paynter is obviously referring to the Bush administration’s use of the terrorist attacks as an pretext for curtailing civil liberties, just as Hitler and the Nazis did in 1933. But the metaphor is highly problematic because of the strong possibility that the Nazis actually lit the Reichstag fire. Since no sane person, no matter how much they detested Bush et al, would suggest that the hijackers were acting under instructions from the current administration, this implication contaminates and discredits the Reichstag metaphor. As Tom Shugart argued—in a comment on this post— “your conspiracy theory weakens your argument.”

In a post titled Certidudes, Doc Searls frames the disagreement in these terms:

But my point isn’t about any of that. It’s about partisanship and paranoia. To me all the certidudes are equally off base because they’re convinced the Other Guys are part of some big-ass Conspiracy, or are what Craig Burton calls EWBU: Evil, Wrong, Bad and Ugly. That’s how Michael Moore sees the Bush and the Administration. And that’s how Andrew Sullivan sees Howell Raines and the Academic Left. Their rants make for great reading; but they’re not fully engaged with Reality, which includes, let’s admit, the possibility that the other side isn’t always full of shit.

See, here’s the real problem. (Brace yourselves. I’m leveraging Lakoff again.) Basically, all our politics proceed from two radically opposed notions that are nonetheless equally true. The one on the Right holds that the world is a dangerous place, that bad people are on the loose, and that we need to keep ourselves safe from those people. The one on the Left holds that the world is a good place, and that we should do everything we can to nurture whatever keeps it that way. As bases for default thinking both serve to explain and dismiss much of what goes on in the world. Neither is correct in every case, and both are biassed. (A reader makes a good point: Basing ones thinking at one end or the other often leads to hatred and contempt � which we find in the language of blogging from both political extremes.)

Doc is absolutely correct to suggest that “all our politics proceed from two radically opposed notions that are nonetheless equally true” (though I would have preferred the word “valid” rather than “true”) and that “neither is correct in every case, and both are biassed.” But then, in a curious elaboration of his argument, he apportions all the blame to the Right, letting the Left off the hook.

Only one of those, however, makes interesting news. Only one of those is good for stirring up the kind of righteous anger that carries us to war, and to “delivering justice,” whatever we decide that is, and to justifying the deaths of the few for the good of the many (or of the wrong for the right, or whatever). Only one of those lends itself to handy all-simplifying sports and war metaphors. Only one of those justifies killing folks who have the misfortune of living in the wrong house, eating in the wrong restaurant or wearing the wrong clothes.

Until we discover the limits of the might-makes-Right’s moralities, its obsessions with power and security, its willingness to trash the very liberties it seeks to protect, and its ability to carry out its military ambitions, theirs are the arguments that are not only going to carry the day, but be tested in the real world.

Chinese poster: A People's Army Has No RivalYet would not the victims of the Gulag, the Cultural Revolution, and the Killing Fields bear witness that the Left has an equal aptitude for “stirring up the kind of righteous anger that carries us to war,” for “delivering justice, whatever we decide that is,” for “justifying the deaths of the few for the good of the many,” for trashing “the very liberties it seeks to protect,” and for “killing folks who have the misfortune of living in the wrong house, eating in the wrong restaurant or wearing the wrong clothes”?

(I’m reminded of a line in Joanna Burke’s An Intimate History of Killing: “more hatred was expressed by trade unionists during an average strike than by men in the midst of battle.”)

“Right now,” writes Frank Paynter, “we have two choices. Support Bush or oppose him.” And later, “I think that is the choice.  You are either with them or against them.”

“You must understand, sir,” says deputy-governor Danforth in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, “that a person is either with this court or he must be counted against it, there be no road between. This is a sharp time, now, a precise time—we live no longer in the dusky afternoon when evil mixed itself with good and befuddled the world. Now, by God’s grace, the shining sun is up, and them that fear not light will surely praise it.”

Paynter and Danforth. Certidudes indeed.

But here’s an incontrovertible fact: nothing is pure or simple, for we remain mired in the dusky afternoon, where evil inextricably mixes with good and befuddles the world; and I doubt it will ever be any different.

Frank Paynter’s argument, which attempts to reduce complex issues to a false polarity, is hardly any different from Attorney-General Ashcroft’s. I realize that it’s difficult for ideologues to deal with complexity, to “admit to the possibility that the other side isn’t always full of shit,” just as it’s difficult for them to accept that someone can:

be simultaneously against Bush and against street marches.

oppose unilateral military action and the doctine of the pre-emptive strike while accepting the possibility of a just war.

support the Palestinians’ right to an independent state but be implacably opposed to Islamic fundamentalism.

But the real world is like that: complicated and nuanced. Burningbird summed up the problem of peace marches and suggested an course of action not dissimilar to Tom Shugart’s:

And I won’t attend the ones this weekend because, to me, they lack focus and discipline. Are we protesting to support Iraq? Or against Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Ashcroft? Are we for UN? Or against the Patriot Act? And before you say the lines are clear on all these issues, they aren’t. The ‘peace movement’ needs to make a decision about what the fight is, develop an effective voice, and then stick with it.

To which I would add that the anti-war/peace movement would do well to find common ground with those on the Right who opposed—for whatever reasons—the invasion of Iraq.

Or, alternatively, they can stick with the hollow posturing of street marches.

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Comments

'...its difficult for ideologues to deal with complexity, to "admit to the possibility that the other side isnt always full of shit."'

There is of course the strong possibility that both sides are full of shit. In which case you're forced not to be 'with us' or 'against them' or whatever formulation makes you feel comfy, but merely to hew as closely as possible to what you feel is right, which may be simple or complex or some haphazard mix of the two.

And meanwhile, people keep dying, which may be an example of reduction of complex issues to a false simplicity, but is no less true for all that.

A few beers in the same room together, and this bickering would be a bad memory, I suspect.

Posted by wonderchicken on 14 April 2003 (Comment Permalink)

(er, I should mention that I haven't been following this at all, just sounding off, as I have a tendency to do.)

Posted by wonderchicken on 14 April 2003 (Comment Permalink)

I find myself, once again, being in almost complete agreement, Jonathan...

"To which I would add that the anti-war/peace movement would do well to find common ground with those on the Right who opposed—for whatever reasons—the invasion of Iraq."

I believe that, if the anti-war/pro-survival movement wants to elect the next President of the U.S...

..Then We will need to find common ground with those in the Center. Those who understand that war sure IS an unfortunate state of affairs. But those who understand that, when war starts, what war IS is there are two sides trying almost EVERYTHING to kill the other side or get them to surrender.

That's what war is. BOTH sides will kill the other until one submits to the proposition that surrender is the best course. Killing IS messy business (but unless One is a vegetarian, and even then, unavoidable).

The Center understands that peace is NOT normally derived from stalemate between two warring factions. And it only takes one side to wage war. So the Center doesn't see anything complex about the those non-contradictions You mentioned, Jonathan, that the idealogues have trouble with.

The false meme that there should be NO war would be true, perhaps, on some other planet than the one We live on at this time in history. Countries DO, of course, choose their military and politico-economic battles and have throughout the past century.

It is my hope that more countries, and gangs of terrorists as well, will choose military battles far less frequently... I don't seek a utopia that is impossible in the non-forseeable future of the next decade.. where ALL countries and gangs of terrorists quit killing people.

You aren't gonna be able to share a few beers with these people, to clear up the situation. Because masses of people (from small mobs to entire countries) behave differently than the individuals that make up the group. But sharing water, food, health care should help a LOT.

:
:

And it is my hope that (at least some of) those who would terrorize others will pause for thought... And understand that the Center of the American people aren't gonna just tolerate ANYthing and EVERYthing other gangs and regimes do..

..and understand there aren't gonna BE any more Viet Nam style-of-wars for the U.S...

In 2004, the Center is gonna elect a President that CAN go to war, if necessary. Will it be necessary? Dunno, but I'm not so sanguine to believe that the U.S. and Allies (and semi-Allies) will not be militarily attacked by small gangs of terrorists wielding powerful weapons, like box-cutters and truck-bombs (Oklahoma City, among others) and anthrax and other W-of-Massive-People-D.

But I'm not so pessimistic to believe that We'll go to war over each and every such attack, because We haven't in the past.

Opinions subject to change based on events, 'course.

Posted by jt on 14 April 2003 (Comment Permalink)

And btw, Americans are just gonna ignore the hollow posturing of posts like this one:

http://weblog.burningbird.net/fires/001087.htm#comment5728

America is not responsible for everything that goes wrong in the world, just because We became the leader by default.

Yet, to a lotta people in the world, Americans ARE responsible for everything that is wrong in the world, by default.

The priorities of the American and Allied militaries, right now is:

1a) Protecting Allied military forces and killing enemy military forces until they surrender.

1b) Protecting innocents.. civilians, reporters, humanitarian aid workers.. and preventing as much revenge-killing by those who've been brutally repressed for decades, as balance of power shifts.

The Iraqi's, as far as I know, did the looting with no need of encouragement. I believe there ARE international laws against selling these items, but who's supposed to enforce these laws...?

The military of the Coalition has their hands full, and this COULD have BEEN a UN coalition except for France's veto. So who's supposed to enforce these laws...?

Posted by jt on 14 April 2003 (Comment Permalink)

You consistently raise the level of this debate. Your positions are consistent, but nuanced. I wish you were writing on these topics for the public press. I suspect that our "likes and dislikes" may differ -- I like Alfred Jarry, Situationism, and Street theater and I think we need a public show of no confidence in the Bush administration, whether or not we have a well formed alternative to specific policies -- but whatever our differences, I learn from each of your political posts. I truly wish our public discourse approached the level of reason you consistently maintain. Bravo!

Posted by The Happy Tutor on 14 April 2003 (Comment Permalink)

In the post you've referred to I affirm my belief that:

"Right now we have two choices. Support Bush or oppose him. And in opposition, peaceful street demonstrations, non-violent civil disobedience, letters to the editor, calls to elected representatives -- all these are valid. What is not valid is any enjoyment of a so called victory in Baghdad. This is NOT about any kind of nation building. It is about imperial colonialism, pure and simple."

You don't seem to agree with this, nor with the implications of your disagreement. I'm okay with that. I think Stavros nailed it above when he said: "There is of course the strong possibility that both sides are full of shit. In which case you're forced not to be 'with us' or 'against them' or whatever formulation makes you feel comfy, but merely to hew as closely as possible to what you feel is right, which may be simple or complex or some haphazard mix of the two.

And meanwhile, people keep dying, which may be an example of reduction of complex issues to a false simplicity, but is no less true for all that.

A few beers in the same room together, and this bickering would be a bad memory, I suspect."

Posted by Frank Paynter on 14 April 2003 (Comment Permalink)

Mr. Tutor,

I'm not above fishing fer a compliment: Wuz You referring to me...??

:

And Frank, I'm afraid that "Stavros" is full-a shit.

He don't seem to even recognize that there are people dying, AND there are people who live today who WOULD-a been deader'n a doorknob if the Hussein Regime was still in power.

I forget who pointed out that the number of Iraqi civilians who are gonna survive, now that the Regime is being dismembered, will shortly DWARF the number that has died in the conflict... (That doesn't lessen the tragedy of ANY of those who did die, but that's the facts nonetheless.) And that don't seem to signify with those who WANNA believe, very DESPARATELY, that this "is about imperial colonialism, pure and simple."

If You have any interest in seeing the Truth of the current situation, then look no further:

Probably the BEST "example of reduction of complex issues to a false simplicity" is the meme that "A few beers in the same room together, and this bickering would be a bad memory".

Nice thought though... ...

But the information I have is that, even AFTER ole Bin DECLARED War in '95 (iirc), the U.S. Government DID attempt to negotiate with Him in '98 to iron out some-a the differences, or whatever reason.

"The rest is history", as "The Great 'They'" would say.

It's also been said, on a Tech forum sig line by I dunno who, "You can't reason a person out of a position that they didn't reason themselves into."

Reason doesn't factor in much, to the thinking-feeling-instincts of a religious Fundamentalist (of any flavor of Religion/Belief System). At least in my experience.

Posted by jt on 15 April 2003 (Comment Permalink)

I said, "The Iraqi's, as far as I know, did the looting with no need of encouragement."

I am somewhat lamely corrected by this article, "UN and Army at odds as troops encourage looting".
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,5944-635035,00.html

I dunno why I say "somewhat lamely", because the facts of the matter are pretty obvious to anyOne who has even one eye to see:

"Iraqis share graphic tales of regime's torture chambers"

http://www.usatoday.com/usatonline/20030414/5066558s.htm

"Sunday, looters storming the Al-Salam Presidential Palace on the Tigris River marveled bitterly at Saddam's life of luxury as they passed shards of crystal from chandeliers and shattered mirrors."

You might not wanna visit this link if You have a weak stomach or philosophical-dyslexia, because the truth is that Hussein was in power for too long, rather than what those too close to the archtype "pro-terrorist" would have You believe.

Had We known, would We have done something about Hussein earlier...? Doubtful, as there are STILL plenty-a people mouthing off about how horrible war is, instead-a looking at both the good/bad this particlar war is accomplishing.

Posted by jt on 15 April 2003 (Comment Permalink)

In brewski reducto! I'm all for a little simplicity and soothing, especially that found at the bottom of a drained pint glass. So I'm hoisting one to you, Jonathan, as well as Frank, Stavros, jt, and whomever (Team Bush excluded).

Posted by Tom Shugart on 15 April 2003 (Comment Permalink)

Oops! Sory, Jonathon. I can't seem to escape that misspelling!

Posted by Tom Shugart on 15 April 2003 (Comment Permalink)

If you people don't stop your inane bickering, I'll climb down this pipe and throttle the lot of you from your monitors.

Peace...

Jonathon, Frank, Tom, Shell, Chris, you're all right - in all senses. Me? I'm a certidude. Well, at least I think I am... I'm open to correction though.

I dig face daubing, banal chanting, self-indulgent moralizing, wishful thinking, and reading trite placards. Marching and drumming, though, aren't my bag. They're far too much like hard work.

However, after several weeks of continually putting on make-up, indulging myself, thinking wishfully, and occasionally attempting to read something, I'm bushed and really wouldn't mind a beer or three.

The bugger is that I've sworn off the stuff and so must ask my reluctant drinking companion, Kovacs, to do the honors for me. Please Chris. Thanks. And Frank, call me. I need to get bail money sorted.

Posted by Mike Golby on 17 April 2003 (Comment Permalink)

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour