Thursday, July 07, 2005

You Can Never Go Home Again

This morning, likely guided by a political, cultural, and religious vendetta, a group of people committed murder in London. The London Mayor Ken Livingstone described the situation best, saying this behavior isn't an ideology, it isn't even a perverted faith, it's mass murder.

Last week, Woody Allen commented about 9/11 to the German magazine Der Spiegel. Asked why he hasn't commented on September 11 in film, Allen remarked that as a filmmaker, he wasn't interested in 9/11 because, if you look at the big picture, the long view of things, it's too small, history overwhelms it. Though I disagree with Allen's further explanation of this opinion, I share the underlying sentiment.

I cannot shake the feeling that these cruel acts are but the death rattle of a doomed mode of being. The hopes of these fiends — that the world (or portions of it) can somehow unliberalize — not only will not be realized, but cannot be realized.

Within western society, a big part of Post-Enlightenment history has been a rather Hegelian expansion of who's invited to society's party. White male landowners, white males, white females, males, females, former slaves, immigrants, gays, the poor — our current history is a process of granting Ordinary Person status to every increasing classes of people.

Outside of western society, one fruit of globalization has been the step-by-step dispersion of the notion that all members of a society are due the general respect previously afforded only the most accepted and select members of that society.

Source: AP

As they discover that the dreams of the Jihadists are not their own, Iraqi Sunnis living in border regions are learning that the enemy of my enemy is not my friend — not when that false friend orders women to wear all-enveloping scarves and robes, forbids young men from wearing Western clothes, and closes stores that sell music and satellite dishes. Habits die hard when those habits help people feel ordinary.

Whereas Iraqi insurgents wage a diminishing homeland rebellion,the cultural war waged by foreign jihadists is against all comers who lack their worldview. Witness the recent battles between Sunnis and Jihadists near the Iraqi border. Witness the enmity these jihadists hold, even for potentially sympathetic Arab countries.

Source: AP

The shadow's clutch on human minds has reigned since we first scrawled the buffalo on the cave walls. Many more will sadly die at the slaughterbench of history as the shadow retreats into the cave from which it came. Our present suffering aside, the dreams of those who would shrink the set of Ordinary People cannot be realized. We've come too far. We've seen too much. We can never go home again.

The long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead.
John Maynard Keynes


Andy said...

For an altogether cathartic take on today's events, I invite you to check out the London News Review's A Letter To The Terrorists, From London.

Anonymous said...

terrorism is an interesting topic. what distinguishes the kind of crime called terrorism from other violent crime? bush has said that the terrorists "hate our freedom". he has assigned, basically, this motive to them, that they commit the crimes specifically to disrupt the formation of a liberal society in which the little guy has rights. many left-wing thinkers find this hard to take seriously.

philosophical pragmatism states that the difference between an explaination and a fantasy is that an explaination solves the problem. this is how it qualifies itself as an explaination. an explaination of terrorism must solve the problem of terrorism, or it will not be counted as an explaination.

poems of many tones can be written about events. why one poem and not the other? why this take on it and not that take on it? what makes opinion more than just another industry or sport?

thought promised to be more than just improvisational music. it was not music that made the transistor. it was thought.

when it comes to the kinds of events called "political", it is not clear how to consider different interpretations of the events. those with opinions are bought and paid for. they serve a constituency. every one has an angle. individuals are paid to spin for company profit. but then we can ask: why now THIS interpretation? why THIS story?

i would like to advance the consideration of local, physical morality as a new way of finding clarity. considering actions, even those of opinion, from the perspective of physical culture seems pretty promising, though this idea will make many uncomfortable. the reasons for this have been put forth in yoga philosophy. the existing physical culture has a continuous relationship with the whole history of human suffering. this relates to judgement, which relates to opinion, which relates to this final question: what, in reality, is the part of the culture called politics?


Andy said...


I'm bored by Bush's Us/Them comparison concerning American Culture™ (as he understands it) versus a perceived enemy (as he understands them). In light of this boredom, I guess I'd revise one of my remarks — Viewed internally, I don't think that Islamism sets out to specifically unliberalize anything. To itself, Islamism appears a positive mission, that it might undo other modes of being is, from its vantage, merely happenstance.

The path towards the greatest happiness for the greatest number is littered with the bodies of less efficacious modes of being. Given alternate modes of being, I don't believe that many/any women would choose Sati or female circumcision/genital mutilation. I think social cannibalism has probably had its day. Countless are the human ways and behaviors that impeded the movement toward the greatest happiness for the greatest number. Think how quaint President Bush's views will appear in 1,000 years — we're all bound up in history, doomed to appear medievally savage to the 20/20 hindsight of our descendants.

I'd be careful using "poem" to while describing any activity that washes itself in the blood of innocence — or, for the Ward Churchills in the room, the blood of the less involved. I wouldn't claim to be an expert on Jihadist views, but it seems that many Jihadists Have Become Death in a way that Oppenheimer could never have imagined.

Though I'm excited by your comments regarding a local, physical morality, I think that personal calm/centeredness/qi only buys you so much in this thoroughly interconnected world. Currently, I'm quite convinced that the greatest happiness for the greatest number is a idea that only annihilation could impede, and that only the communication and dispersal of modes of being will have an effect beyond one's personal life and death. If you live silently calm and centered, then you die calm and centered. If you discover means of communicating this mood before your death, then it stands the chance of living on as a mode of being.

Sociopolitical and cultural ideas and values will change and fall away. However, provided that a multitude of modes of being remains the world's status quo, permit me to brush against the forbidden realm of Social Darwinism when I say that modes of being which play well with others will have a competitive advantage over modes of being which do not.

Some people want to be king, some want to die for their thoughts or beliefs. Most people just want to be Ordinary. Since we are not born the same, nor are we born equal, over time Ordinary People will gravitate towards modes of being that don't get hung up over our differences.

Doc said...

I think the term you're looking for is "cultural selection" more than "Social Darwinism". "Social Darwinism" usually refers to the late 19th century idea that Darwin's theory of Evolution by Natural Selection could be used to justify states without social welfare systems. The upper eschelon of society is there because they have a competitive advantage. By allowing competition in society, the best will rise to the top and the bottom will shrivel away (either socially or in life). The association with Eugenics and other bad things™ is straight-forward.

Cultural Selection, on the other hand, is the idea that some thoughts and ideas (usually called Meme) are more viable. They appeal to more people (have a higher fitness) and are thus transmitted more readily (have a greater reproductive success). The difference is that one involves the life and death of ideas, the other the life and death (or at least social position and rights) of people. I'm not enough of an intellectual for the two levels of selection to be equivalent. But I digress.....

I have a few problems with the idea that cultural selection following the free exchange of ideas will lead to an increase in overall human happiness by finding the (or at least an) adaptive peak (so to speak) of human happiness. First a small worry. I worry about the homogenizing influence of the free exchange of ideas when the one culture (namely American) dominates the medium (Internet) by which ideas are exchanged most freely. This shouldn't be seen as an endorsment of anti-pluralism, just a caution.

For another, I worry about the ethics of simply waiting until the competition of ideas are over. I do hope that in the future we as a people do stuble upon a highly desiarable mode of being. But what do you say to the peope who are suffering now? Let's say that given free choice no one would choose an mode of being that includes female circumcision. In the future, given the free exchange of ideas, this practice should disapear. But what do you say to the thousands (millions) who suffer while we wait? Perhaps there is a time at which there is sufficient disagreement with an idea among the plurality of free nations to warrant action?

I guess my biggest worry with the idea that cultural selection will cure our ills is that the qualities that make an idea ripe for transmition may not be the same as the qualities that would make it an attractive choice (if you could choice freely among all alternative modes of being), and there is something attractive about an idea that makes you a member of an elect and special group. The problem is compounded by the fact that liberal societies, by their nature, are tollerant of the spead of modes of being that do not extent the same courtesy. (The problem of biological altruism seems similar and may have some of the same theoretical solutions).

The solution to the ills of society will absolutely require a pluralism of ideas. It is only with a pluralism of ideas that we can build anything like a veil of ignorance (sorry Rawls) from behind which we can choose the ethical and moral systems that are best for human happiness. From the perspective of this society, ideas that "play well with others" will do well. But we must be on the look out for the ideas that spread like wildfire, perhaps feeding on a basal human instinct, which threaten to uproot this society and live, perhaps, with the unhappy contradiction that in a truely pluralistic and beneficial society, some ideas have no place.