What happens when the words of the people have real power? In an Obvious Society, that will be the case, though we’ll need to realize that the words of any one of us have as little interest for most of us as our office webcam. We will surely listen better. We’re already seeing that effect with blogs, where the dialogue is so much more reasonable than in the media circus.
In an Obvious Society, just as we’ll feel constrained from stealing, lying and bullying, we’ll be more balanced in our rants, since a conversation without respect, patience and nuance is just a variant on road rage. If we are to rise above whining about each others’ stupidity, we have to acknowledge each other’s core starting points as valid. You know—war vs. no war; profiling vs. not; right to choose vs. not; marijuana vs. not; etc.
I came across a couple of interesting essays last week. They deserve more than just a link, so please indulge me. They forced me to think through some realities I had not truly dealt with before. Let me know if any of this is illogical.
- Any one of us is less likely to be hurt by terrorism than we are likely to win the lottery.
- But some of us will win a lottery this year.
- We’re not in a war but we are in a street fight, with guys who will die to bloody our nose.
- An unacceptable number of us will be killed by terrorism in the next couple of years.
- If we don’t occupy Iraq now, the body count goes up—not because that’s where the terrorists are, but because we will not have been forceful enough to do so and silence the Arab machismo affect.
John Perry Barlow, acting counter to type, sounds like his own Op-Ed contributor describing the way Dick Cheney’s mind works, and wondering if the crazy guys in the White House may know what they’re doing. Ming is similarly uncomfortable with the means vs.ends issues here:
Sympathy for the Devil
I remember a time years ago when I was as convinced that Dick Cheney was obscenely wrong about something as I am now. Subsequent events raised the possibility that he might not have been so wrong after all…
I once knew Cheney pretty well. I helped him get elected to his first public office as Wyoming’s lone congressman. I conspired with him on the right side of environmental issues…
With the possible exception of Bill Gates, Dick Cheney is the smartest man I’ve ever met. If you get into a dispute with him, he will take you on a devastatingly brief tour of all the weak points in your argument. But he is a careful listener and not at all the ideologue he appears at this distance. I believe he is personally indifferent to greed. In the final analysis, this may simply be about oil, but I doubt that Dick sees it that way. I am relatively certain that he is acting in the service of principles to which he has devoted megawatts of a kind of thought that is unimpeded by sentiment or other emotional overhead…
[There’s a] technique I once used to avoid being run off the road by Mexican bus drivers, back when their roads were narrower and their bus drivers even more macho. Whenever I saw a bus barrelling down the centerline at me, I would start driving unpredictably, weaving from shoulder to shoulder as though muy borracho. As soon as I started to radiate dangerously low regard for my own preservation, the bus would slow down and move over. As it turned out, this is more or less what Cheney and his phalanx of Big Stategic Thinkers were doing [in 1982], if one imagined the Soviet Union as a speeding Mexican bus. They were determined to project such a vision of implacable, irrational lethality that the Soviet leaders would decide to capitulate rather than risk universal annihilation. It worked.
While I think that rock ‘n roll and the systemic failures of central planning had as much to do with the collapse of communism as did Dick’s mad [Mutually Assured Destruction] gamble, I have to confess that, by 1990, Cheney didn’t look quite so nuts to me after all. The MX, along with Star Wars and Reagan’s terrifying rhetoric, had been all along a weapon for waging psychological rather than nuclear warfare.
I’m starting to wonder if we aren’t watching something like the same strategy again. In other words, it’s possible Cheney and company are actually bluffing. This time, instead of trying to terrify the Soviets into collapse, the objective is even grander. If I’m right about this, they have two goals. Neither involves actual war, any more than the MX missile did.
First, they seek to scare Saddam Hussein into voluntarily turning his country over to the U.S. and choosing safe exile or, failing that, they want to convince the Iraqi people that it’s safer to attempt his overthrow or assassination than to endure an invasion by American ground troops. Second, they are trying to convince every other nation on the planet that the United States is the Mother of All Rogue States, run by mad thugs in possession of 15,000 nuclear warheads they are willing to use and spending, as they already are, more on death-making capacity than all the other countries on the planet combined. In other words, they want the rest of the world to think that we are the ultimate weaving driver. Not to be trusted, but certainly not to be messed with either…
If one takes the view that war is worse than tyranny and that the latter doesn’t necessarily beget the former, there is a case to be made for global despotism. That case is unfortunately stronger, in the light of history, than the proposition that nations will coexist peacefully if we all try really, really hard to be nice to each other. It is certainly unlikely at the moment that geopolitical stability can be achieved by the formation of some new detente like the one that terrified us into peace during the Cold War…
If I were in charge, this is neither the flavor of peace I would prefer nor the way I would achieve it. But if I’d been in charge back in 1983, there might still be a Soviet Union and we might all still be waiting for the world to end in fifteen nuclear minutes. Of course, I could be completely wrong about this. Maybe they actually are possessed of a madness to which there is no method. Maybe they really do intend to invade Iraq and for no more noble reason than giving American SUVs another 50 years of cheap gas. We’ll probably know which it’s going to be sometime in the next fortnight.
By then, I expect to be dancing in Brazil, far from this heart of darkness and closer to the heart itself.
Now that’s an astonishing post by our Chief Cognitive Dissident, whom we expect to oppose every grasping move by the greatest empire in the history of empires. It’s nuanced, which you expect from Barlow, and shares some personal insight into one of the world’s chief players. Unlike most
of us, Barlow has a voice that’s heard, as might most of us in an Obvious Society with empowered dialogue.
One thing’s for sure, the Cheney et. al. strategy resonates with the teachings of biology in general and Howard Bloom in particular. In The Lucifer Principle (1995), Bloom introduced us to superorganisms and how unprincipled they are in rising up the pecking order. (You and I and companies and nations are superorganisms). In Global Brain, he teaches us that the growth of a superorganism—its only purpose—increases when its members are richly interconnected. Bloom’s lesson is that warfare, rape and torture will continue as long as the superorganisms (or just its leader!) believe they even might make a move up the pecking order. When the option for pecking order advancement is removed, peace reigns in the chicken coop, baboon troop or United Nations.
Then comes the problem of reigning in the snarly bastard ruling the roost. Barlow calls this “the Divine right of thugs.”
The blogging community is almost as tightly connected as Japanese schoolgirls. Clearly the third world is not. Third world machismo regards westerners as wimps. Arab males of the alpha, bravo, etc.stripe are guys who act with force and confidence in the world, silencing dialogue with brutality and administering a code of justice frozen in the sixth century. Revenge and unbridled world rage gives them a sense of purpose. They hold no political power nor are they connected to any significant cultural decision-making, but they have the power of life, death and genital mutilation over their families. They (and many NRA members) pity the weak, hollowed-out American male, forced to live in a world of subtle forces and endless compromises. These men bully their wives and families and neighbors. They may be no more the Arab male majority than are America’s assault weapons owners, but they are in charge of the Arab dialogue.
These are the people who hate the way of life beaming in on them from the Running Dog Satellite Service,. They will do anything to stop it and for them any day is a good day to die, for that is the manly thing to do. If you’ve ever felt road rage welling up in your chest, you know how these guys feel all the time.
My next insight came from the Christian Science Monitor, another reliable voice for peace and progressive values:
If antiwar protesters succeed
[Ed: To publish an unsigned opinion piece is an exception to the Monitor’s policy. But the views expressed here, if put with a name, could endanger the writer’s extended family in Baghdad. The author – known to Monitor staff – was born and raised in Iraq. Now a US citizen with a business that requires extensive world travel, the author is in frequent touch with the Iraqi diaspora but is not connected with organized opposition to Saddam Hussein.]
Since Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League, started warning that a US invasion of Iraq would “open the gates of hell,” the retort that has been flying around Iraqi exiles’ websites is, “Good! We’d like to get out!”
It got me wondering: What if you antiwar protesters and politicians succeed in stopping a US-led war to change the regime in Baghdad? What then will you do?
Will you also demonstrate and demand “peaceful” actions to cure the abysmal human rights violations of the Iraqi people under the rule of Saddam Hussein?
Or, will you simply forget about us Iraqis once you discredit George W. Bush?
Will you demand that the United Nations send human rights inspectors to Iraq? Or are you only interested in weapons of “mass destruction” inspections, not of “mass torture” practices?
Will you also insist that such human rights inspectors be given time to discover Hussein’s secret prisons and coercion as you do for the weapons inspectors? Or will you simply accept a “clean bill of health” if you can’t find the thousands of buried corpses?
Will you pressure your own countries to host millions more Iraqi refugees (estimated now at 4 million) fleeing Hussein’s brutality?Or will you prefer they stay in bondage?
Will you vigorously demand an international tribunal to indict Hussein’s regime for crimes against humanity? Or will you simply dismiss him as “another” dictator of a “sovereign” country?
Will you question why Hussein builds lavish palaces while his people are suffering? Or will you simply blame it all on UN sanctions and US “hegemony?”
Will you decry the hypocritical oil and arms commerce of France, Germany, Russia, and China with the butcher of Baghdad? Or are you only against US interests in Iraqi oil?
Will you expose ethnic cleansing of native Iraqi non-Arabs (Kurds, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Turkomens), non-Sunni-Muslims (Shiite), and non-Muslims (Christians, Mandaens, Yezidis)? Or are these not equivalent to the cleansing of Bosnians and Kosovars?
Will you show concern about the brutal silencing of the “Iraqi street”? Or are you only worried about the orchestrated noises of “Arab and Islamist streets” outside Iraq?
Will you hear the cries of Iraqis executed in acid tanks in Baghdad? the Iraqi women raped in front of their husbands and fathers to extract confessions? Or of children tortured in front of their parents? Or of families billed for the bullets used to execute military “deserters” in front of their own homes?
No. I suspect that most of you will simply retire to your cappuccino cafes to brainstorm the next hot topic to protest, and that you will simply forget about us Iraqis, once you succeed in discrediting President Bush.
Please, prove me wrong.
Different Voices, Identical Threats
In the fall of 1967, I was flying C-130s in Viet Nam and my fiancée was marching for peace in Washington. We didn’t see that as a conflict—more like covering both sides of the story. Nor did we feel any tension around this. I was there because I was expected to be there, and, having been born in 1942, I had grown up with the expectation of military service. She marched because our generation was working out a new voice and that view had to be sent to the politicians.
Empowered dialogue takes opposing viewpoints seriously. Though near zero, let’s assume that there are threats that need to be faced and wars that need to be fought. It’s difficult for me to even type those words, so don’t assume I present that lightly.
Opponents of this war need to acknowledge the need for the rare war when you cannot accept the continuing threat of attack. The acknowledgement makes for a nuanced conversation. People who revere their inner child must also respect their inner demon. As Deepak Chopra says, the inner dialogue is the saint and the sinner comparing notes.
Warhawks need to acknowledge the possibility that there are times when we shouldn’t project our power on others, even when they hold wildly different views. They have to stop thinking like missionaries in order to hold a nuanced conversation, which should not be avoided just because it’s more difficult than fighting.
Let’s be clear. We will establish the Pax Americana, as Jay Bookman wrote in the Atlantic Journal-Constitution last September. With luck, we’ll do it with no more than a fright display, as John Perry Barlow suggests and upon which the animal kingdom relies to keep the peace. If we don’t colonize Iraq now, we will surely do it after the next terrorist attack, and we’ll be a lot more belligerent then. The reason we will colonize Iraq is that we’re in a street fight that won’t stop until we put an end to it. It doesn’t matter that the terrorists aren’t in Iraq. The terrorists are watching what happens in Iraq to gauge where and how to attack again.
In a sense, we’re like Wal-Mart looking to expand our western heritage franchise. We believe deeply in our franchise and we feel threatened by the the band of militant little retailers out there who have resorted to assassinating our clerks. We believe they will continue to do so until we intimidate them as they were before we opened the store at the edge of town. As a superorganism, we really have no choice. We’ll grow or shrink. If we start to shrink, we’ll be attacked more and more because we’ll be more attackable. These are the facts of life on earth, from bacteria colony through super power. If you don’t believe it, read the book.
So what’s the hope for we members of the splinter group that believes humanity can rise above war? First we have to extricate ourselves from the back alley brawl with this hopped-up kid with a knife. We’d rather not, but we’ll have to use those expensive karate lessons to disable him and then get on with spreading the meme that violence is unnecessary. We may have to go to a lot of City Council meetings to hire more cops, change the zoning rules and get the scumbag owner of that sleazy bar run out of town. It’s not their tatoos we hate, it’s the lunatic fringe with the same tattoos as the rest, and everyone attacking us has the same tattoo.
And we also have to stay up nights re-wiring our economy so there are more opportunities for kids like these. Too bad there’s no hope for these gang members, though.