Tuesday, March 20, 2007

One More Insubstantial Thing

I don’t speak your blasted language.
—Col. John Norton-Griffiths

I have to break my self-imposed deafness regarding all things political and silence regarding the blog to ask, if anyone's left out there, regarding this renegade Obama campaign anti-Clinton ad parodying the old "1984" Apple Computer commercial: how on earth is this an "attack ad"?*
Is it merely because of the imagery, throwing the hammer at the mere representation of Hillary on the screen (it's been a long time, but is that a Hooters girl tossing the hammer?)? Or is it enough to engage in the deliberately fanciful and humorous comparison of Hillary to Big Brother to qualify one as this season's Lee Atwater?

I had the impression that an "attack ad" made clearly false claims or insinuations, engaged in guilt-by-association, or contained scurrilous assaults on personal behavior; I think the definition is being stretched here to include the merely irreverent (and I don't share the disdain for attack ads myself; it's all on the electorate in the end, and if the American public hasn't yet attained the political sophistication to penalize the insubstantial or scandal-mongering with pointed ignorance or ridicule then we do indeed deserve the "leaders" we get--as for the rest of the world, perhaps we owe them an apology).

But is this what we can expect of the coming race, this sideshow of brittle sensibilities? It's probably only a matter of time before Obama revels in his moment of affected outrage because someone has indulged in the temerity of questioning whether his much-hyped personal history of racial struggle isn't just a bit disingenuous. Both campaigns already have the apparatus in place to convert to useful energy anything, such as the moment's so-called attack ad, that can be portrayed as an unfair or bigoted assault.
Both sides are coiled to strike at the first rhetorical duck to step out of line, and with the presence and unspoken collusion of Fox News and the usual suspects of right-wing radio, they will likely have several opportunities. Our only recourse against a political campaign that dodges the glaring stage lights of real scrutiny by grappling in the mosh pit of phony outrage is through ridicule. Let's nip this thing in the bud. Mock early, and often. I'm looking at you, Daily Show. Once more unto the breach.

As for the ad in question, it makes a powerful statement about a longtime political insider who operated ruthlessly behind the scenes before gaining the junior senate seat for the state of New York to use as nothing more than a springboard to executive power while doing absolutely nothing to turn back the assault on civil liberties of the Bush Administration and cheering on its appalling foreign policy until it became no longer politically beneficial, and who is currently joining in the enthusiasm for an attack on Iran (some sixties hippie you turned out to be!), and whose own campaign is currently stifling debate and the political process by threatening donors away from competing candidates with all the subtlety of a snarling Rottweiler defending a side of beef, as it seeks to hoard as much of the available odds- and favor-chasing campaign cash as it can before anything as disorderly as a political debate breaks out (all of this probably a tad more significant than a satirical ad getting carried away with an extreme metaphor).

Add to this the disturbing lack of scrutiny she recieves by many due to her sex and longtime service as a feminist talisman, the fact that so much establishment money has migrated so quickly to her candidacy, the cult-like reverence for her exhibited by the habitual first name only denotation by fawning abjects, and the overall sense of entitlement to power she exudes (and a pair of disembodied eyes that always seem to follow you, even from photographs, chilling every male right down to his inherently misogynistic soul), and I'd say whoever made the offending ad deftly addresses the creeping unease which many of us feel toward this woman who is propelled along on a sort of reverse groundswell of corporate and politically elitist support. Many of us, liberal and conservative alike, get the feeling that Hillary has been selected for us and is now being foisted upon us.
Furthermore, say what you will about either Obama or Clinton, they are clearly of two distinct generations, and our current ruling elders seem to have guided us to a very precarious station in the nation's progress. I don't know what precisely is behind all of the attention the rogue spot is getting, perhaps simply that it strikes a chord with media types who can't help but feel a bit cowed by the Hillary Machine, but its resonant note is sounding over and over again as the piece is being repeatedly shown on television news programs. If the Clinton campaign had a hand in bringing the spot to the public's attention by seeking to generate outrage over it they need to learn when to keep their powder dry.

It seems another common misconception we have foisted upon ourselves, that our political process is increasingly fouled by personal attacks (as many have pointed out, the personal invective has been much worse in the past), when in fact the greater problem is that the process is diluted by so much insubstantial chatter. In fact, the clip the ad's author used of Hillary Clinton blathering about having a "conversation" with the electorate was pretty damned apt, if you ask me. This language, my God.
The feminization of our culture is a given consequence of the sexual revolution and I don't intend to fight it other than obliquely by championing common sense and rigor over kitsch and sentiment, but Hillary Clinton's oeuvre of platitude, euphemism, and thinly veiled female (and other group) resentment shows that a powerful and effective new language has entered the family of totalitarian tongues. Big Sister may prove much more effective than Big Brother in the end, and when she's so very eager to please the aggressive militarism of AIPAC while increasing the size of the state at home and can be counted on to do whatever she can to accelerate our continuing slide into a racial and sexual spoils system, perhaps the 1984 analogy is as pointed as it is farcical.

Are we so afraid of intellectual strife and complexity that we just want someone to stroke our collective head and tell us she'll be our great all-protecting Big Mother, or that he'll flash his winning smile and "transcend" right out of existence the age-old problem of race?
Sorry, stupid question.
So if the candidates are going to waste our time pretending to be engaging the nation in kindly chats or attempting to turn the national political narrative into the equivalent of a black-white buddy movie, I say let the hammers fly.

(Now I have to go back to sharpening my survivalist skills and writing my Kaczynski-esque manifesto)

*The day after posting this I realized that I should perhaps seek out a definition of attack ad, and found this on Wikipedia:
In political campaigns, an attack ad is an advertisement whose message is meant as an attack against another candidate or political party. Attack ads often form part of negative campaigning or smear campaigns, and in large or well-financed campaigns, may be disseminated via mass media.
An attack ad will generally criticize an opponent's political platform, usually by pointing out its faults and contrasting them against its own platform.

So the YouTube spot qualifies by this broad definition of any criticism offered of one's political opponent, but hardly qualifies as a "smear." Clinton supporters no doubt view it as negative, but this merely points out the problem with the whole overbroad "attack ad" concept. I've always thought that offering a critique of your opponent's plan and contrasting it with your own is not only valid but a necessary part of a political campaign.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Deranged Bedfellows

The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.
—George W. Bush, Inaugural Address, 2005

…we will not stop at this point, but will pursue the evil force into its own lands, invade its western heartland, and struggle to overcome it until all the world shouts the name of the Prophet and the teachings of Islam spread throughout the world. Only then will Muslims achieve their fundamental goal, and there will be no more “persecution” and all religion will be exclusively for Allah.
—Hasan al-Banna, quoted in To Be a Muslim (Fathi Yakan)

A world-wide socialist army of the revolutionary proletariat is alone capable of putting an end to this oppression and enslavement of the masses.
—Lenin

We want to glorify war, the only cure for the world.
—F.T. Marinetti, The Futurist Manifesto

We have met the enemy, and he is us.
Pogo

Every revolutionary is a frustrated tyrant.

It is the light in the world's darkness. Its absence is the very definition of tyranny and oppression. It is the sacred duty of those who possess it that they bring it to those who do not, by warfare if necessary. It cannot be fully realized until it exists everywhere; its existence everywhere is inevitable. The world is divided between those who thrive in the light of its revelation and those who wallow in the darkness of their ignorance. It is man’s only assurance of freedom from oppression, ignorance, and want; it is to be his final liberation from bondage. Every society preceding it is inferior; there is no progression beyond it. It is the end destination of humanity.
It is the fundamentalist interpretation of Islam; it is George W. Bush’s interpretation of democracy.

The similarities in rhetoric between America's neoconservatives and Islam's global jihadists reveal them as two recent manifestations of a constant human impulse toward such dangerously expansive and messianic movements. These movements derive from and manipulate the individual's ineradicable need to be part of a vital and ascendant group, and his attendant fear of other such groups displacing his own, so ingrained by centuries of evolutionary pressures that we do not recognize it. Human nature has for eons expressed this aspect through kin and tribe in the struggle for survival in a hostile world. The marriage of ideology to this powerful and primordial impulse is a relatively recent and deadly development in human history.

Such movements take on the rhetoric of revolution when pursuing power and the methods of totalitarianism once they attain it. The revolution seeks out predominance; the totalitarian system defends it. They are the same phenomenon in different developmental stages. But neither can long survive stasis. For a movement to stand still is to die, and always to the benefit of mankind.
If enemies and threats do not exist abroad they must be created at home; the ideal enemy for instilling the fear and fervor necessary to fill the ranks and maintain order is a competing movement of comparable size and vitality, with a complementary opposing ideology. Moderation, legality, temperance, the rights of nations; these are the true threats to an ideological movement, the very antitheses of revolution and totalitarianism. This is why the radical Left assails liberalism and liberal institutions; this is why radical neoconservatism despises conservative "isolationism" and international law alike. The revolutionary and the totalitarian are the yin and yang of humanity's restless, destructive, and fearful nature, of man's innate aggression and paranoia. The impulse toward aggressive revolutionary/totalitarian movements is the dark underside of man's creative sociability.

For any revolutionary movement ideological content is really secondary to its irrational, emotional appeal to the individual's inborn yearning for plenty and security; its particular language is malleable over time, often fantastic and delusional. The formal similarities of the great ideological movements reveal them as merely separate instances and vehicles channeling this same primordial need. These appeal to the individual through the promise of group vitality, to be realized by expansion through conquest and conversion; to security from the domination of or absorption by foreign groups with the same needs; in the claim to moral supremacy and the primacy of individual rights as defined and ordered by the movement, in opposition to the group rights of other nations, hence the disdain for international law and concepts such as just war; in the celebration of war and the elevation of heroism to a place of god-like transcendance; finally in the promised messianic end goal of a heaven on earth, an end to history and strife, achieved and enjoyed by the true believers and their progeny.

These movements start out as revolutionary and, if successful in gaining power, invariably end in domestic repression and expansionist aggression. Having defined itself as singularly just any opposition anywhere is percieved as inherently evil; the movement becomes antinomian, authoritarian, and global. The mere existence of alternatives is deemed a threat to its existence. This finds its expression most elegantly and ironically in the disastrous formula, uttered by a fittingly anonymous provocateur: no one is free when others are oppressed. Let this be revolutionary totalitarianism's sardonic epitaph, and soon.

What makes these movements dangerous is this need for momentum, satisfied by continual expansion; these movements are largely expansion and momentum, fundamental individual behavior aggregated to form naturally hostile groups that instinctively assault one another in a world they see as a chaotic, continual threat. They must conquer, render subservient, or assimilate all other groups until no competitors remain.
Of course, this can never be achieved, as apostate sects will always form, and as the realities of race, kin, and geography intrude and trump the false and temporary bonds of ideology. Movements are thwarted, they dissipate, they are absorbed into others. But the impulse goes on, endlessly recombining, reforming, metamorphosing. New cells form within host movements and split off; boundaries can be fuzzy; language is sometimes freely traded. The jihadist movement as currently constituted began in the thirties and flowered in the revolutionary fervor of the sixties, borrowing freely the rhetoric of the Western Left; many of the jihadist authors of that period sound positively Marxist.

Still it's important to see the content of ideology and messianic religio-political movements as mass, self-applied delusion; as essentially group self-deceit. Witness the average neocon: he can't see the true nature of his movement for the visceral appeal of his half-formed ideas.

But interests, largely defined by the availability of resources, are still the true determinant of war and peace.

Nations and ethnicities remain engaged in the same age-old struggle over resources and room. Take for instance the progress of Russia through the years; from the czars through Stalin and now in its post-Soviet phase, its core geostrategic interests have not changed, and its actions are determined more by its relative strength than by any ideological gloss. Likewise us. Only the slogans change.

The delusion requires the specter of a hostile and uncivilized world as a constant and imminent threat. For the Islamist the world is divided into the infidel dar-al-Harb (house of war), and the Muslim dar-al-Islam (house of submission); for the celebrants of a new American global order there is the "free", i.e. Westernized, world, and the unwashed, benighted remainder. These world-views are now squared off against one another over the last great source of the world economy's lifeblood, oil.

Those proposing the forcible democratization of the Middle East as the central strategy of the "global war on terror" have been allowed to advance an absurd argument: on one hand they warn of an “existential challenge” to the West, citing Islam's well-documented doctrinal intolerance and violence, as well as its inherent hostility to modernity, and the intolerance of Muslim populations; on the other, they propose the answer to this is the forcible introduction of democratic elections. The same Muslim backwardness they chronicle reveals both the deceptiveness of their stated goals and the irrationality of their designs. But democracy is the only sanctioned evangel left to modern America, so it is in its name that our modern crusaders seek to conquer the world. The predictable result of such madness is what we are now witnessing. But notice that the delusional fervor of the hardcore isn't lessened by these horrific results, but redoubled. For the true believing ideologue, there can be no retreat.

The ruse of democracy promotion complements global jihadism perfectly. There is no better way to lend credence to the Islamist's talk of a "war on Islam", than to pursue neoconservative designs of conquest and democratic reform in the Middle East, which in fact is a de facto war on Islam; many neoconservatives have chronicled the Muslim world's inherent rigidity, intolerance and hostility to liberal democratic institutions at length, only to turn about and embrace (at least ostensibly) the forcible introduction of democracy there. The jihadists couldn't have conjured up a more effective specter for their purposes of rallying Muslims to global jihad.

The new American imperialists are hopelessly ignorant not only of human nature but of the broader world beyond the West, and many of them likely are influenced by hostility toward Arabs, Muslims, and sympathy toward Israel, but the war in Iraq is still about the oil. All of the attendant forces that swept us up into war, understandable fear and anger following 9/11, American Likudniks looking to improve Israel's position, anti-Saddam liberal interventionists; without the tremendous untapped oil wealth (and most of the public still doesn't realize the size and significance of still undocumented Iraqi oil reserves, which may in the end rival Saudi Arabia's) there, you can rest assured that Dick Cheney and his minions wouldn't have pulled out all the stops (and pulled resources away from the pursuit of al Qaeda) to whip up the hysteria that was the buildup to the Iraq war. The cause, securing a vital resource, was older than war itself, but the call would use the heady language of the "existential threat", the glorious crusade, and martial glory.

Oil will be the fuel of civilization for as far as we can see into the future, and it will increasingly come from lands with a defecit of creativity and liberty, and a surfeit of religious, nationalist, and ideological fervor. This is why the Iraq war was really Dick Cheney's disastrous gambit to secure our energy future, disguised as World War III. It would have been far more wise, and cost-effective, to merely accept and adapt to the new realities of the global energy situation, and let the oil market work (yet another hypocrisy, our current leaders' false faith in "markets"). But then, no one in the current administration has ever successfully run any commercial enterprise, Cheney and Rumsfeld's stints selling their government contacts to the private sector notwithstanding. It should not surprise us that they haven't learned the realities of cost, risk, and benefit while on the job in the White House.

But many still believe the rhetoric and buy into the delusion. The Soviets maintained the ruse of worldwide communist revolution until it became farce, while bankrupting themselves financing an untenable global empire (pursuing the same geostrategic goals that concerned them both before and after the rise and fall of the Soviet Union) with a more untenable economic system, and while we chase the apparition of Islamic global hegemony, we are far more likely to be surpassed by good old fashioned Asian ingenuity and industry. The future still belongs to the productive and creative, as it once belonged to us, an "isolationist" nation not yet intoxicated on the elixir of ideology and vainglory; one that another totalitarian revolutionary once derided as a "nation of merchants", not very long before the repurcussions of his delusions came down upon his own nation's head. Time for us to stop chasing dragons, and realize we are being overtaken by one.