Friday, March 23, 2007

"We have to touch people..."

by Len Hart, The Existentialist Cowboy

In my last article, I referred to Jacob Bronowski, whose Science and Human Values addressed not merely the objective, scientific bias behind "logical positivism" but also the human drive to create in both science and art. Arguably, this drive is as basic as are the instincts to procreate, eat and seek shelter.

Bronowski, was a scientist, a positivist; but, just as importantly, he was a humanist. When Bertrand Russell would wander into the arid deserts of pure symbolic logic and linguistic abstraction, Bronowski, would bring us all back to earth with the human touch, a comforting reminder that "' is not a mechanism but a human progress."

I cannot believe that it was by accident that what may be his finest effort -- Science and Human Values --was written in the war scarred, arid intellectual landscape that was the post World War II world. The surreal devastation that had been Hiroshima and Nagasaki were symbolic of that world. It was a world that dared to ask or was perhaps forced to confront the frightening question: what would I do if I were the only human being to survive a world wide apocalypse, the last human being left alive?

Positivism is associated with Comte but more recently with the "logical positivists" like A.J. Ayer who proposed and outlined in Language, Truth and Logic a "verifiability criterion of meaning":
"A complete philosophical elucidation of any language would consist, first, in enumerating the types of sentence that were significant in that language, and then in displaying the relations of equivalence that held between sentences of various types.
For Ayer, the function of a sentence is to convey meaningful information. But, if only meaningful sentences are significant and nonsense insignificant, then what is the meaning of meaning? Whether Ayer successfully offers up a meaning of meaning, as he had hoped to do, becomes the litmus test of his legacy. Did he succeed? Or --was Wittgenstein correct to state that all such "positivist" attempts end in infinite regress. What is the meaning of the meaning of meaning?

For Ayer, meaningful sentences are significant because they are verifiable or because they are tautologies. For example, "bald men have no hair" is true by definition. "Synthetic sentences", as Ayer classified them, are only true when measured empirically but are significant because they may be so verified. Statements about the height of certain mountains, on earth or moon, are resolved only by actually measuring the mountain. But statements about them, even if false, are nonetheless, significant. For the moment, we may assume reasonably accurate methods of measure.

Ayer is dry reading:
2. Reduction of material object language to language about sense-contents.

logical constructions (p. 63): if we can provide a definition in use showing how to get rid of a term ‘a’ in favor of other terms ‘b’, ‘c’, etc., then we may say that the thing supposedly referred to by ‘a’ is a logical construction out of the things referred to by ‘b’, ‘c’, etc. So, for example, tables are logical constructions out of sense-contents. (Here is the tendency for positivism to lead to idealism!)
--Language, Truth and Logic, A. J. Ayer
Bronowski, by contrast, talks as much about creation as verification, about culture and civilization as about symbols and formal systems:
This is the act of creation, in which an original thought is born, and it is the same act in original science and original art. But it is not therefore the monopoly of the man who wrote the poem or who made the discovery. On the contrary, I believe this view of the creative act to be right because it alone gives a meaning to the act of appreciation.


'The society of scientists is simple because it has a directing purpose: to explore the truth. Nevertheless, it has to solve the problem of every society, which is to find a compromise between man and men. It must encourage the single scientist to be independent, and the body of scientists to be tolerant. From these basic conditions, which form the prime values, there follows step by step a range of values: dissent, freedom of thought and speech, justice, honour, human dignity and self-respect.'
Only Bronowski, who understood science as well as art, could have written this perfect synthesis of both sides of the human brain, this perfect description of the cultural role that is often played by science.

The act of fusion is the creative act, he wrote. Few have written as eloquently or as precisely about the creative process. Indeed, few have known or understood that both science and art are products of the same human will to create. The artist will produce a gestalt of his/her own brain and hand. The scientist will reconcile, for example, Everest as seen from the north with Everest as seen from the south.
All science is the search for unity in hidden likenesses. Let me illustrate. Western mountain climbers, at home with compass and map projection, can match a view of an some inaccessible and rarely seen mountain with another view that they have seen years ago. But to the native climbers with them, each face is a separate picture and puzzle. The natives may know another face of the mountain, and this face too, better than the strangers; and yet they have no way of fitting the two faces together.

On the morning of the 27th we turned into the Lobujya Khola, the valley which contains the Khombu Glacier (which flows from the south and south-west side of Everest). As we climbed into the valley we saw at its head the line of the main watershed. I recognized immediately the peaks and saddles so familiar to us from the Rongbuk (the north) side: Pumori, Lingtren, the Lho La, the North Peak and the west shoulder of Everest. It is curious that Angtarkay, who knew these features as well as I did from the other side and had spent many years of his boyhood grazing yaks in this valley, had never recognized them as the same; nor did he do so now

The leading Sherpa knew the features of Everest from the north as well as Shipton did. And unlike Shipton, he also knew them from the south, for he spent years in this valley. Yet he had never put the two together in his head. It is the inquisitive stranger who points out the mountains which flank Everest. The Sherpa then recognizes the shape of a peak here and of another there. The parts begin to fit together; the puzzled man's mind begins to build a map; and suddenly the pieces are snug, the map will turn around, and the two faces of the mountain are both Everest. Other expeditions in other places have told of the delight of the native climbers at such a recognition.
J. Brownowski, Science and Human Values, New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1965, p. 11.
Of two views, one.

It was a flash of pure creative inspiration that lead Newton to conclude that the moon is falling, literally, around the earth, that an orbit is simply an acceleration of a falling body graphed over time. It was Einstein who took this creative "unification" yet another step. This acceleration graphed over time is a "projection", the very curvature of space-time itself.

It was Bronowski, who urged that we be not "...overwhelmed by the scale of science." There is still work to do. The discovery of mesons occurred during attempts to reconcile our understanding of light as "wave" with its behavior as "particle". Likewise, it is hoped that "string theory" or some other TOE (theory of everything) will make of science an ultimate creative fusion.

For Bronowski, the appreciation of art as well as the understanding of science lies in the willingness of a third party, an observer, to re-create the process. To do so is to share the creative process itself.
The poem or the discovery exists in two moments of vision: the moment of appreciation as much as that of creation; for the appreciator must see the movement, wake to the echo which was started in the creation of the work.'
There are difficulties with both Bronowski and Ayer. Ayer, a thorough-going, formidable logician, cannot verify value statements nor can he state the conditions under which such statements might be verified. His own "Verifiability Criterion of Meaning", his meaning of meaning itself, prevents his doing so.

Bronowski, significantly does not reject such positivism. He embraces its contradiction and transcends it in another paradigm. He humanizes it, pointing out in a single sentence, the underlying, unproved social injunction implied in Ayer's analytical methods. That implied imperative is:
We OUGHT to act in such a way that what IS true can be verified to be so.
It was, after all, Ayer and his fellows, who had eschewed the very word "ought". Thus, at a time when modern philosophy had consigned human values to the realm of meaninglessness, Bronowski, conjoined them in a supreme act of creativity.

Bronowski is best known for his monumental The Ascent of Man, a series that he wrote and hosted for the BBC. In thirteen episodes, Bronowski traced the evolution of human society. Many characterize this monumental achievement as refuting Kenneth Clark's earlier Civilization series. That criticism misunderstands both Bronowski and Clark. I like to think of both efforts as book ends on a single shelf. The Wikipedia assertion that "...the two series can be seen as a dialogue between two fundamentally opposed philosophies" misunderstands the nature of both perspectives as the Sherpa, described by Bronouski in Science and Human Values, failed to recognize Everest from the other side.

Bronowski is not easily reduced to one thing or the other. A thorough-going scientist, he was as much a humanist. As a perpetual war is waged in Iraq and the specter of international "terrorism" is raised by demogogues and genuine terrorists alike, we are in need of real humanists. We are in need of more Bronowskis. We are in need of a rational, yet creative and meaningful, world.

The most moving moment in the Ascent of Man occured in an episode entitled: 'Knowledge or Certainty'. In it, Bronowski visited Auschwitz where many members of his family had died.
We have to cure ourselves of the itch for absolute knowledge and power. We have to close the distance between the push-button order and the human act.

We have to touch people.

Since posting this article, I found another take on Bronowski and Clark. It is from the nationally syndicated Engines of Our Ingenuity hosted by Dr. John Lienhard of The University of Houston's College of Engineering. Lienhard had prepared a broadcast about both Clark and Bronowski for "Engines". Here is an excerpt and a link to a transcript of the broadcast.
Watch either of these TV series by itself and I promise you'll be enchanted. But watch both, and you'll see a stunning convergence from two directions. Clark and Bronowski converge on hope, they converge on belief, they converge on the pervasive unity of the human species. Of course both are wary. In the end, Bronowski says,
We are all afraid ... That is the nature of the human imagination. Yet [we have] gone forward. ...
And a worried Kenneth Clark, facing the social upheaval of the late '60s, says (as much to himself as to us),
... civilisation has been a series of rebirths. Surely this should give us confidence in ourselves.
They both clearly assert our capacity for saving ourselves. They realize that technology, science, and the other arts have always converged upon our problems. And they surely remain our only real hope in troubled times.
-Dr. John Lienhard, Engines of Our Ingenuity, No. 1880:
Clark and Bronowski

When Ascent of Man aired, some "critics" suggested that Bronowski aimed to refute Clark. I never saw it that way. Indeed, Lienhard referred to a "convergence":
Watch either of these TV series by itself and I promise you'll be enchanted. But watch both, and you'll see a stunning convergence from two directions.
-Dr. John Lienhard, Engines of Our Ingenuity, No. 1880:
Clark and Bronowski

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Of Rock, Protest, and Golden Ages

by Len Hart, The Existentialist Cowboy

In response to my previous article in which the sixties were mentioned with some nostalgia, I got this email from Dr. John H. Lienhard of the University of Houston:
During the '60s I looked around at the complexity of life and dreamt about my simpler world of the '30s.
Lienhard hosts the nationally syndicated The Engines of Our Ingenuity, a radio series about how our culture is formed by human creativity. His program must be listed among all those things that are right and good about American culture. Check your local NPR radio outlet. There is a good chance that you can tune in --as we were urged to do in the sixties.

The point Dr. Lienhard made about nostalgia is timely. Like the sixties, these are times of great disillusionment. In the sixties, we were as frustrated with the course of war and politics as many are today. Perhaps the "soundtrack" was better but that's my subjective opinion honed upon the timeless classics like Blowin' in the Wind, The Eve of Destruction, and, from Woodstock, the infamous:

I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag

Hey Jude, White Room, and, of course, Joan Baez:

And, of course, Bob Dylan, who became the conscience not just of our generation, but, as Johnson said of Shakespeare, "he was not of an age, but for all time."

I was born just days before Adolph Hitler took his own life in the bunker. About four months later, the US would drop two nuclear devices on two cities in Japan. I have vague, near infantile recollections of hearing a "pop" song about "the" bomb on the radio. In the early 70's the distinguished scholar, Jacob Bronouski, in Science and Human Values would, likewise, associate a pop song with the end of a "Golden Age" that nuclear weaponry portends. That song was "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby?". Bronouski was touring Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the head of the British team sent to assess the damage:

I had blundered into this desolate landscape as instantly as one might wake among the craters of the moon. The moment of recognition when I realized that I was already in Nagasaki is present to me as I write, as vividly as when I lived it. I see the warm night and the meaningless shapes; I can even remember the tune that was coming from the ship. It was a dance tune which had been popular in 1945, and it was called “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t Ma Baby…?” The power of science for good and for evil has troubled other minds than ours…. Nothing happened in 1945 except that we changed the scale of our indifference to man; and conscience, in revenge, for an instant became immediate to us…civilization face to face with its own implications. The implications are both the industrial slum which Nagasaki was before it was bombed, and the ashy desolation which the bomb made of the slum. And civilization asks of both ruins, “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t Ma Baby?”

-Jacob Bronouski, Science and Human Values

Johnny Mercer wrote a 1943 version of Is You is or is You Ain't My Baby. I am inclined to believe that the recording Bronouski heard was by Louis Jordan, an American Rhythm and Blues pioneer who was born July 08, 1908 in Brinkley, Arkansas and died Feb 04, 1975 in Los Angeles. An entry lists a "Representative Song" as Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby

The concept of the "Golden Age" is brought to mind. Moderns may discount this ancient idea, but it is nevertheless ingrained in the human psyche. Europeans and Americans will most probably associate the concept with the Greek spectrum of Iron, Bronze, Silver and Gold. In western tradition a "Golden Age" often ends in disaster, a flaming Götterdämerung. Ancient Vedic texts often interpret history in terms of alternating dark and golden ages.

Then there are the very arcane concepts that may be found in the relatively obscure work of former MIT professor of history, Giorgio de Santillana, not to be confused with Georges Santayana who wrote: "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to relive it." Santillana, rather, dealt with myths, legends, story as all related to human culture. In his book, Hamlet's Mill, he posits a zodiacal precession caused by a verifiable tilting of the equator. Thus for ancient peoples, he wrote, time and the cycles of change "came into being".

The "untuning of the sky" was, in fact, an actual event. It requires a momentary suspension of our modern mentality to allow that ancients might have found in this event a beginning of time and, eventually, a re-alignment of the heavens that would usher in a new "Golden Age". Walter Cruttenden, author of Lost Star of Myth and Time, believes the cycle of the ages has a basis in fact indirectly due to the motion of the solar system around another star. The point, rather, is not whether ancients were right or wrong. The point is that the idea of a Golden Age seems ingrained. At worst, golden ages are depicted in myth and art as primitive Arcadia.

The loss of Golden Age seems always associated or caused by those things associated with civilization such as war. A return to Arcadia seems always to beckon just below the wakeful human consciousness. Is it ingrained or learned? Is "Arcadia" lost upon achieving civilization. Was Rousseau correct? Was Voltaire wrong?

I recall an infant dream in which I floated effortlessly down a wide but gentle river. The trees on either side grew taller, denser, darker as I drifted. At last the branches overhead met and merged, forming a lovely intricate, crystalline lattice. The woods on either side were, to borrow a phrase from Robert Frost, "lovely, dark and deep". Had I tapped into the human, sub-concious desire to return to a gentle, golden age?

A closing thought in video:




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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

What Europeans hate about America and why

Just this morning, an American expatriate sent me a link to a site called "Take Me Back to the Sixties". I was enchanted to hear songs that I hadn't heard in years -Percy Faith's "A Summer Place", Elvis' "It's Now or Never", The Animals? "House of the Rising Sun", the Lovin' Spoonful's "Summer in the City", and Buffalo Springfield's "For What it's Worth". Like Thomas Wolfe, abroad back in 1926, I was very nearly overcome by a flood of impressions and memories, some vivid, some only half recalled but felt. (See: The Story of a Novel, Thomas Wolfe, The Creative Process, Brewster Ghiselin) I grooved with the head phones on. At last, sadly, the music turned out to be a right wing come on. Sacrilege.

Earlier, I had witnessed an angry protest of Bush's aggressive war against Iraq. It was a considerable crowd with banners marching peaceably just outside the Palais des Nations. But, again, I had seen a much bigger protest -some 5,000 to 10,000 -in the belly of the beast, Bush's "hometown" of Houston. And, as if to underscore the point a couple of hours later, a BBC program lampooned the growing rift with America. To be fair, the British comics singled out things that even Americans can't stand. I wish I could recall them.

While I admire Voltaire, the spirit of the "Enlightenment", French art, wine, as well as Edith Piaf, it must be pointed out that the French are not always right. French philosopher Jean-Francois Revel, for example, sounds like a NEOCON when he writes: "Democracy may, after all, turn out to have been a historical accident, a brief parenthesis that is closing before our eyes." Hasn't Dick Cheney said something similar of late? Indeed, Revel is considered to be one of the most important conservative thinkers in France. Like the "neo-conservative" movement in America, Ravel saw in America's left wing a threat to what he would call "...the foundations of democracy". Naturally, I see it the other way 'round. It's just as wrong as if Dick Cheney had said it. And he probably did. You shouldn't be surprised if I should tell you that Revel is quoted in The Free Republic.

I've also been channel surfing. Not having counted, I hesitate to say that most of the programming comes from America, specifically Hollywood. But, certainly, much of it consists of US stars dubbed in French. I have seen as many car chases, blonde bimbos, and gangster rappers as I saw in America. If Europe is as appalled by American culture as it claims to be, then why does it insist upon importing the very worst that America has to offer? For example, I have yet to see a Ken Burns documentary on the BBC, though I had seen many BBC programs on American TV. It occurred to me that perhaps I could do both America and Europe a service by enumerating some of the better things about American culture.

At this point, I have only random flashes of American excellence that are too often ignored by the merchants of crap back home and the buyers of crap in Europe. From time to time, however, I will see, on TV, someone of the stature of John Coltrane, Roy Orbison, or Gerard Schwarz. Musicians, whose stock and trade is a universal language, fare better than those whose greatness is language and speech. Even the American intellectual has a bit of metaphorical prairie dust on him/her but, sadly, that is all lost in translation.

I found just such greatness in the works of a lesser known writer, J. Frank Dobie

James Frank Dobie (September 26, 1888–September 18, 1964) was an American folklorist, writer, and newspaper columnist best known for many books depicting the richness and traditions of life in rural Texas during the days of the open range. As a public figure, he was known in his lifetime for his outspoken liberal views against Texas state politics, and for his long personal war against what he saw as bragging Texans, religious prejudice, restraints on individual liberty, and the assault of the mechanized world on the human spirit. He was also instrumental in the saving of the Texas Longhorn breed of cattle from extinction.
J. Frank Dobie, a self-made man, a gentleman, a scholar, may have been the first Existentialist Cowboy.

Dobie is provincial, to be sure, but his writing is universal as is his wit, his widom, his empathy. And, unlike the phony cowboy who presumes to rule, Dobie was a thorough-going liberal. Nevertheless, he will remain virtually unknown in Europe though he conducted classes at Cambridge during World War II. (See: A Texan in England) His Cambridge students asked him: "Do we sound as strange to you as you sound to us?" It was Dobie who wrote movingly of British honor during that time of war. He said of life at Cambridge: "Three thousand young men, all of whom would rather lose a game than win it unfairly".

Despite the fact that Dobie was of another generation, I share a certain "base" with him. Dobie writes of a Texas that was unspoiled as it very nearly was when I was a child. His sweeping vistas were my sweeping vistas. His stories of lost Spanish gold became my mythology and I often saw, in the distance across the dusty plain, the very sprawling mesas where Maximillian's Gold might have been buried. When I read Dobie today, I hear my father's voice reading from Coronado's Children (Dallas: The Southwest Press. 1930) by the light of a Kerosene lamp.

I have no quarrel with European critiques of American culture. In fact, in most cases, I share them. I disdain Bush and his stupid, tragic war. But Bush is not, in fact, representive of American values. He is a perversion of them. The same is true for most of the GOP. Here's a clue. Bush is no cowboy. He's a poser and fraud and, as such, he is symbolic of what often passes for American culture abroad.

I would say this to interested Europeans who would see American culture for what it was and might yet be again. Stay tuned. Even Rome fell. And so too will American imperialism.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Of liars, idiots, Bush and Goering

A man who does not know the truth is just an idiot but a man who knows the truth and calls it a lie is a crook!

--Bertolt Brecht
The sane and insane alike act upon what they believe to be true. Mankind's greatest atrocities, crimes, and inhumanities invariably follow from irrational beliefs, namely lies. ignorance, bigotry, and superstition.

The GOP, meanwhile, is a party of ideology. It would be one thing if life-long members of the GOP were merely deluded. But what is most pernicious about the party is this: most members know better.

Educated "goppers" know, for example, that wealth does not trickle down but they will work for Reaganesque tax cuts anyway. Most Republicans knew that Bush was lying when he said that attacking and invading Iraq was a part of the war on terror, that Saddam had WMD, that US troops would be killing bona fide terrorists in Iraq. But they supported Bush anyway knowing that he was lying.

What can be said of an entire class of people who act upon beliefs that can easily be shown to be misinformed, misunderstood, or just plain wrong? Others simply refuse to confront facts or evidence contrary to their beliefs and prejudices. Some will believe whatever "...makes them feel better about themselves." Many will continue to act upon falsehoods and hold to them even when the results are catastrophic as they have proven to be in Iraq. Paid liars like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh spread lies for money --a Faustian bargain! Those making them are in hell already.

Many people in the "right wing" believe assorted black-hearted lies that a black person, a homosexual, or an Iraqi is either a lower form of life, an "abomination to God!", or an "infidel". Thus discrimination and murder are justified. Likewise, many Islamic extremists are taught the same thing about Americans.

I make a distinction between a purposeful Hitler and those who merely make mistakes. Hitler must surely have known that the racial myth with which he justified the murder of some six or seven million Jews in Europe was a black hearted lie. Yet, when he acted upon the lie, millions of "good Germans" followed him into hell. Similarly, Ronald Reagan must have known that "supply side economics" was a bogus rationalization that would throw millions of people out of work. The "clever dicks" who invented "trickle down" theory most certainly knew better but supported whopping tax cuts for rich folk anyway.

It is not only disingenuous Republicans who swoon about how "Reagan made us feel good about ourselves", it is media shills who must certainly know better. Some people ought to lose sleep at night. Some people ought to have bad dreams and night terrors--a phenomenon that recent studies have shown is commonplace among Republicans.

In medieval times, the European Continent was an unlikely birth place for an enlightenment that was not to come for another 1,000 years. A trial, for example, was based less upon evidence or witnesses than upon the outcome of an ordeal in which it was believed God would assert his powers. Disputes, for example, were resolved by combat, and it was believed that God would favor whomever was in the right. Suspected witches were often subject to trial by water in which those found innocent were no better off than those judged guilty. Those who survived drowning were guilty because the "pure" water had rejected them. Only by sinking and drowning could one be "proven" innocent. Certain death is a high price to pay for acquittal.

The insane logic behind this may be forgiven a primitive culture, but what of modern Republican demagogues who smear innocents with the incredibly insane and medieval assertion that no evidence is, in fact, evidence of guilt? Perhaps Republican malice and ill-will might have been satisfied if Gary Condit and Bill Clinton had been subjected to trial by fire, water, or joust and only by death is innocence proved! By contrast, the case against George W. Bush is overwhelming and consists of real probable cause and real evidence that Bush has with "...malice, aforethought" ordered war crimes resulting in death. I suggest that whomever finds this trivial read US Codes, Section 2441 having to with War Crimes and the penalty for those war crimes that result in death. It is a capital offense.

The Nuremberg War Crimes Trials were significant for several reasons. It affirmed a standard of personal responsibility. The trials discredited the defense: but we were only following orders. (See: The Avalon Project at Yale Law School, The Nuremberg War Crimes Trials)

Nuremberg was a study of the very face of evil. Gustave Gilbert, the American psychologist had the thankless job of counseling the rogues' gallery of Nazi criminals, thugs and perverts. Gilbert had been granted free access to all those who would stand trial at Nuremberg. He said that as a result of his interviews, he was able to arrive at what he thought was the very source of evil: a complete and utter lack of empathy. I can only add that it is empathy that prevents us acting upon our worst motives and impulses, and upon the lies we cite to make us feel better about ourselves when we have done so.

Gilbert's interviews with Hermann Goering also reveal the essence of the cynical, political lie. The well-known quote from Hermann Goring is often said to be apochryphal. But it is not. It comes from an interview that Gilbert held with Hermann Goering in his cell on the evening of April 18, 1946 and it may be found in his book --Nuremberg Diary:
Sweating in his cell in the evening, Goering was defensive and deflated and not very happy over the turn the trial was taking. He said that he had no control over the actions or the defense of the others, and that he had never been anti-Semitic himself, had not believed these atrocities, and that several Jews had offered to testify in his behalf. If [Hans] Frank [Governor-General of occupied Poland] had known about atrocities in 1943, he should have come to him and he would have tried to do something about it. He might not have had enough power to change things in 1943, but if somebody had come to him in 1941 or 1942 he could have forced a showdown. (I still did not have the desire at this point to tell him what [SS General Otto] Ohlendorf had said to this: that Goering had been written off as an effective "moderating" influence, because of his drug addiction and corruption.) I pointed out that with his "temperamental utterances," such as preferring the killing of 200 Jews to the destruction of property, he had hardly set himself up as champion of minority rights. Goering protested that too much weight was being put on these temperamental utterances. Furthermore, he made it clear that he was not defending or glorifying Hitler.
Gilbert noted Goering's thoughts about how easily common people are manipulated, how easily they are duped into supporting and fighting various political wars:
We got around to the subject of war again and I said that, contrary to his attitude, I did not think that the common people are very thankful for leaders who bring them war and destruction.

"Why, of course, the people don't want war," Goering shrugged. "Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship."

"There is one difference," I pointed out. "In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars."

"Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

--Gustave Gilbert, Nuremberg Diary

, ,

Four years on: right wing lies about Iraq exposed

NEOCONS and other GOP politicians are still in psychotic denial. Interviewed by Tim Russert on NBC's Meet the Press, former House Majority Leader Rep. Tom DeLay and Richard Perle, the former Chairman of the Defense Policy Board still carry the moribund Bush banner, the same old slogans, the same old lies. Most noticeably, they say, pulling American troops out now will create chaos in Iraq. It will embolden terrorists and make terrorism worse. It is better, they say, to fight them in Iraq.

Let's answer those points in turn.
  • Leaving the troops in Iraq creates chaos.
  • Terrorism is, in fact, made worse by our presence.
  • Finally: there is absolutely nothing to be gained by leaving American troops trapped in the crossfire of a civil war.
Clearly, neither Perle nor DeLay understand the nature of the Iraq Civil War. US troops now find themselves in the no man's land between warring factions: Sh'ia and Sunni. The U.S. loses the war when it gives up the role of "honest broker". Bush has painted himself into a corner, "... committed to propping up the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki".

In the middle of a civil war, the Americans have only two choices: a) Choose one side against the other and hope for the best, or 2) Get out of the way. Some four years ago, I asked: when the civil war breaks out, which side will Bush choose to be on? There are no good choices. Choosing one side over the other puts US troops in harm's war and at war with the other side. Not having good options is the very definition of "losing".

Where were the Iraqi terrorists before the US invaded Iraq and gave them a convenient target? DeLay and Perle will not address that issue. They prefer to regurgitate a tired, old rhetoric that they don't believe themselves.

Bush policies, in fact, make us less secure; we have not engaged terrorists in Iraq; Iraq had nothing to do with 911, most of the violence in Iraq is sectarian in nature.

The opposition to the US is that of a resistance to an illegitimate occupier. I have yet to see convincing evidence that in over four years the Bush administration has done anything at all to make the US safe from terrorist attacks or that a bona fide terrorist has ever been "...brought to justice." By making terrorism worse, we increase the chances of major attacks on US soil.

Nor will pulling American troops make terrorism any worse than our presence there has already done. A recent report indicates that the reverse is true, i.e. the US presence makes terrorism worse.
Washington - A stark assessment of terrorism trends by American intelligence agencies has found that the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks.

The classified National Intelligence Estimate attributes a more direct role to the Iraq war in fueling radicalism than that presented either in recent White House documents or in a report released Wednesday by the House Intelligence Committee, according to several officials in Washington involved in preparing the assessment or who have read the final document.

The intelligence estimate, completed in April, is the first formal appraisal of global terrorism by United States intelligence agencies since the Iraq war began, and represents a consensus view of the 16 disparate spy services inside government. Titled "Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States," it asserts that Islamic radicalism, rather than being in retreat, has metastasized and spread across the globe.

An opening section of the report, "Indicators of the Spread of the Global Jihadist Movement," cites the Iraq war as a reason for the diffusion of jihad ideology.

The report "says that the Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse," said one American intelligence official.

--Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terror Threat, Mark Mazzetti, The New York Times

Delay and Perle continue to raise the same tired old GOP strawmen even as , every day, Iraqis will tell you that every day is worse than the day before.

Indeed, the Civil War has begun and no amount of wishful thinking or GOP propaganda will change the facts in Baghdad:
The White House still avoids the label, but by any reasonable historical standard, the Iraqi civil war has begun. The record of past such wars suggests that Washington cannot stop this one -- and that Iraqis will be able to reach a power-sharing deal only after much more fighting, if then. The United States can help bring about a settlement eventually by balancing Iraqi factions from afar, but there is little it can do to avert bloodshed now.

--The United States Can't Win Iraq's Civil War, James D. Fearon, Foreign Affairs
Significantly, Tom DeLay did not get away with trying to tie the US attack and invasion of Iraq to the events of 911. It was Russert who set the record straight. It has been learned, Russert said, that Iraq had nothing whatsoever to do with the events of 911. But how many times have we heard George W. Bush imply that the US presence in Iraq is in response to the events of 911? How many times will Bush try to connect the US created chaos in Iraq to the war on terrorism?

On an optimistic note, Perle and DeLay clearly lost the debate to former Rep. Tom Andrews (D-ME), the director of the anti-war coalition "Win Without War" and Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA), a retired Vice Admiral of the U.S. Navy who is the highest ranking former military officer to serve in the House.

It is increasingly clear, even in mainstream reports like Meet the Press, that Bush is still playing the wrong game in Iraq. As in Risk and Poker, Bush has tried recently to raise the stakes with renewed attacks on the old nemesis, the "Axis of Evil". Doing so confuses the nature of the American involvement; it ensures our ignominious retreat now or later. Now is the time to think clearly. Now is the time to stop listening to paid psychotics. Now is the time to face cold, hard facts.

Bush saw himself as a conquering hero, just one of his many delusions. By pressing the issues, Bush made of his domestic opposition true heroes at a time when it was not fashionable to "bash" Bush. For too long now, America has been at odds with the rest of the world because America has not seen the world and its role in it clearly. Iraq is the most tragic example. As long as the GOP continues to buy into sloganeering by the likes of Perle and DeLay, there will be no end to American trouble abroad. As I've said so many times: the GOP is not a political party, it was and remains under Bush, a criminal conspiracy.



Sunday, March 18, 2007

On the Edge of Doom: The End of American Community

In his essay on Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, W.H. Auden observed that theatrical directors throughout the 30's found it quite natural to make of Caesar a great fascist dictactor, perhaps more like Mussolini than Adolph Hitler. The conspirators, he says, were "liberals". Up to date analogies are irresistible. There was a very brief period of time not long ago, before Iraq fell into utter chaos, that it could be said that George W. Bush had "...crossed the Rubicon". There are, however, even better analogies to be made.

In 1947, Auden would say of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar that it had "great relevance to our time". That is still true, though Auden believed that Julius Caesar was about a society, the society of ancient Rome, on the very edge of doom. Auden did not believe that to be true of Western Civilization in 1947. But --is it true of the US, Britain, and Western Civilization today? Are we perched on the edge of doom?

Historically, of course, Octavian would "ride the storm" eventually prevailing at Actium, and, upon assuming the title Augustus would give to Rome another 400 years. The prospects thus were not nearly as gloomy as those we face today.

Auden would write of the post Roman-Hellenic world that it collapsed of a spiritual failure, a lack of nerve, an inability to make sense of what was going on. This is the analogy that is to be made with the present. It is not surprising that a far flung war begun upon a pack of malicious and deliberate lies would drag on for four years. It has done so because it would appear that few in power understand what is going on. And those who do are afraid to speak. The BBC states flatly: the Iraq war has sent shockwaves throughout the Middle East that will be felt for a generation. That is, in fact, an optimistic assessment.

There is yet another layer of complication. It has to do with the sense of community that is lately found lacking in America and, perhaps, to a lesser degree elsewhere. Auden makes much of the manner in which Shakespeare begins his plays. "First things in Shakespeare are always important", he writes. It is, therefore, significant that Julius Caesar begins with a crowd scene.

The crowd is among three important types: societies, communities, and crowds. One belongs to a society in which the individual has a function or to which one contributes in one way or another. Communities are composed of people who share a common love. Crowds, by contrast, are composed of members who neither belong nor join. Members of crowds merely add numerically to the crowd. The crowd, Auden writes, has no function.

Crowds arise when communities break down, when individuals for various reasons cannot share a common love or enthusiasm with others. Education, says Auden, has little to do with it. Knowledgeable, highly educated people often become members of crowds for various reasons and thus often help drive the enigma of fascism.

An over-simplification is tempting. Crowds are often fertile ground, nurturing fascism and other forms of authoritarian governments and regimes. If the manner in which Shakespeare begins his plays is important, then it must be pointed out that Julius Caesar begins with a crowd scene and ends with the loss of Republic.

A "crowd" is most often ugly, fickle, angry yet manipulable. Kierkegaard would write of the public as merely a large crowd "...a Roman emperor, a large well-fed figure, suffering from boredom, looking only for the sensual intoxication of laughter." He would call the "press" the "public's dog" that is often set upon the truly great. Thus, the crowd, manipulated by demogogues and charlatans, becomes a mob.

The increasingly isolated, suburban nature of American society, in the midst of plenty, devolved into islands of isolation. The word community merely attached to a souless suburb does not make a real community. It's only a sub-division at best. At worst --a dormitory. An affluent America became a nation of crowds, a public only loosely held together, isolated by the science of demographics whose very purpose is separation and analysis. Given those conditions, the events of 911 were highly exploitable and America became an angry mob.

The conditions were ripe for a would-be dictator to seize "the crown", vowing as he did to "...export death and destruction to the four corners of the earth." This would-be Caesar was hardly swept into office with a popular mandate. The election was stolen. Certainly, Al Gore received more popular votes in Florida. But for 911, Bush would already be retired.

There is some hope that a new Congress will force a positive change. But that assumes that they know what is really going on. Until America finds its soul, its sense of real community, it will remain like the Roman-Hellenic world on the very edge of doom. There is no Octavian in the wings who might give us another 400 years or so.