Total war is no longer war waged by all members of one national community against all those of another. It is total...because it may well involve the whole world. – Jean-Paul Sartre
It has been a while since I posted anything here. Except for leaving copious and fulsome comments, like mouse droppings, within the threads of others, I have eschewed writing about the socioeconomic, domestic- and geopolitical, religiously orthodoxical, and cultural dynamics that, although outside my sphere of influence, are ubiquitously and relentlessly sucking me into their spheres of influence. Unless one is willing to shut off the television permanently, avoid newspapers, stay off the internet, and never leave the house so as not to have to converse with anyone who may inadvertently, or deliberately, bring up, just for example, Bush’s usurpation of the NSA to conduct domestic, warrantless electronic surveillance in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which may have the identical visceral effect upon one’s equilibrium as someone burping their as yet digested chili and beer in your face, one is manifestly bound to encounter the fact that the world has gone mad.
Any definition of what constitutes madness will undoubtedly be construed as subjective at least, and, propaganda, by those who would confer their own subjectivity upon it; a point illustrated inadvertently within this circumspect comment upon political discourse by David Foster Wallace (from the November 2003 issue of the Believer):
The reason why doing political writing is so hard right now is probably also the reason why more young (am I included in the range of this predicate anymore?) fiction writers ought to be doing it. As of 2003, the rhetoric of the enterprise is fucked. 95 percent of political commentary, whether spoken or written, is now polluted by the very politics it’s supposed to be about. Meaning it’s become totally ideological and reductive: The writer/speaker has certain political convictions or affiliations, and proceeds to filter all reality and spin all assertion according to those convictions and loyalties. Everybody’s pissed off and exasperated and impervious to argument from any other side. Opposing viewpoints are not just incorrect but contemptible, corrupt, evil. Conservative thinkers are balder about this kind of attitude: Limbaugh, Hannity, that horrific O’Reilly person. Coulter, Kristol, etc. But the Left’s been infected, too. Have you read this new Al Franken book? Parts of it are funny, but it’s totally venomous (like, what possible response can rightist pundits have to Franken’s broadsides but further rage and return-venom?). Or see also e.g. Lapham’s latest Harper’s columns, or most of the stuff in the Nation, or even Rolling Stone. It’s all become like Zinn and Chomsky but without the immense bodies of hard data these older guys use to back up their screeds. There’s no more complex, messy, community-wide argument (or “dialogue”); political discourse is now a formulaic matter of preaching to one’s own choir and demonizing the opposition. Everything’s relentlessly black-and-whitened. Since the truth is way, way more gray and complicated than any one ideology can capture, the whole thing seems to me not just stupid but stupefying. Watching O’Reilly v. Franken is watching bloodsport. How can any of this possibly help me, the average citizen, deliberate about whom to choose to decide my country’s macroeconomic policy, or how even to conceive for myself what that policy’s outlines should be, or how to minimize the chances of North Korea nuking the DMZ and pulling us into a ghastly foreign war, or how to balance domestic security concerns with civil liberties? Questions like these are all massively complicated, and much of the complication is not sexy, and well over 90 percent of political commentary now simply abets the uncomplicatedly sexy delusion that one side is Right and Just and the other Wrong and Dangerous. Which is of course a pleasant delusion, in a way—as is the belief that every last person you’re in conflict with is an asshole—but it’s childish, and totally unconducive to hard thought, give and take, compromise, or the ability of grown-ups to function as any kind of community. My own belief, perhaps starry-eyed, is that since fictionists or literary-type writers are supposed to have some special interest in empathy, in trying to imagine what it’s like to be the other guy, they might have some useful part to play in a political conversation that’s having the problems ours is.
While I do not refute any aspect of the seeming futility of open jaws on either side of a line drawn in the sand screaming at each other, I do not necessarily think that shouting to be heard is a bad thing. It is not easy to be heard above the din of the ceaseless Sturm und Drang of hype and spin and the cacophony of those vying for pyretic position. Mr. Foster Wallace says, “Since the truth is way, way more gray and complicated than any one ideology can capture, the whole thing seems to me not just stupid but stupefying.” But the truth, if there is such a thing, is black-and-white - as in irrefutable, apodeictic, immutable – to the believer. Try telling a person on either side of the abortion or the death penalty debate that there are gray areas. Certainly you may believe there are. But ask Peter Pro-Life or Danny Anti-Death Penalty or Betty Bud-Light or Molly Miller-Lite to agree; wear a helmet.
Mr. Foster Wallace also concludes that literary types should aspire to empathy, i.e., seeing through the eyes of your adversary, in this case. My own preference is for a Socratic dialectic that methodically attempts to eliminate prejudices and detritus (non-facts) from an argument, until a conclusion, supposedly truthful, can be reached; not that these methods are mutually excusive. But I do not need to get inside Cheney’s head (nor would I if I could) to understand that his neo-conservative ideologies are anathema to my own. Nevertheless, I agree with Mr. Foster Wallace that digressions into hate speech, personal attacks that reference all manner of fulsome effluvia (apologies to Mr. Vonnegut), and digress into an abyss of rhetoric from which there is no return are part of the madness, not of any serious discourse.
If one reads my opening paragraph, it is obvious which way my political proclivities lean. However, beyond generalizations one would be foolish to attempt any precise categorization; I could be a libertarian conservative in the Republican Party, or I could be a concerned citizen who happens to be a registered Independent. Certainly I could be a Democrat or some part of their taxonomy. I would hope to avoid any strenuous attempt at such categorization in order to get at a consensus of the word mad and the examples I am about to give as representative of that definition.
It would be easy to begin with the headline: US Vice-President Cheney accidentally shoots hunting partner. While this is definitely unusual, a more salient aspect of the story is the fact that it took nearly 24 hours for the story to be publicly released. The madness is in the metaphor; this is how the presiding Administration operates. This obfuscation (one that, as we know through experience, will be permanent) is a metaphor for their domestic policy, and this is a metaphor for their foreign policy. Mad, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, means 1 mentally ill. 2 extremely foolish or ill-advised. 3 showing impulsiveness, confusion, or frenzy. I’d have to say that nos. 2 & 3 apply here.
The front page of today’s New York Times reports on this story denoting how Israel and the U.S are “discussing ways to destabilize the Palestinian government so that newly elected Hamas officials will fail and elections will be called again, according to Israeli officials and Western diplomats.” Hypocrisy in and of itself may not be mad, but it is definitely “ill-advised”. I can not speak conclusively for Israel, but the United States is, as defined by its constitution, for democracy.
Recently, Peter Daou ran this article that discussed, among other things, “scandal fatigue”, and listed these stories (with links) as examples (of which I shall use as examples of mad) of the cause of this disorder:
Ex-CIA Official Faults Use of Data on Iraq
Paper: White House Knew About Levees Early
McClellan Confronted With Abramoff Emails
Waas's New Scoop: Cheney 'Authorized' Libby to Leak Classified Information
Chief FISA judge warned about misuse of NSA spy data
House majority leader's landlord is a lobbyist
Republican Who Oversees N.S.A. Calls for Wiretap Inquiry
Bush's Budget Tricks
John Dickerson Speaks...And Drops Some Plamegate Bombshells
Bush's Social Security Sleight of Hand
Tom DeLay to Oversee Justice Department
I reference both this fatigue and David Foster Wallace’s description of polarizing rhetoric as symptoms that I have displayed, and that made me reconsider my own rhetorical tack. However, like the 60 frames per second diurnal evolution of our technology, the geopolitical state of the planet seems to be careening headlong towards an irreversible precipice. And, simply standing gape-jawed, scratching my head, or screaming at the television are no longer intellectually satisfying, and, in fact, seem irresponsible within the context of the following:
'10,000 would die' in A-plant attack on Iran
US prepares military blitz against Iran's nuclear sites
Report: U.S. Is Abusing Captives
Use of force debated amid diplomacy on Iran
Outed CIA officer was working on Iran, intelligence sources say
Two die in Pakistan cartoon clash
Roadside Bomb Kills U.S. Marine (The death took the number of U.S. military personnel to have died in Iraq to at least 2,270 since the since the Iraq war began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.)
Hunter Shot by Cheney Has Heart Attack
EU Seeks CIA Info on Secret Prisons
This list could go on and on, unfortunately, and not even begin to capture the scope of insanity. The proselytes of Judao/Christianity and Islam are amassing into their prospective mobs, some rhetorical, many real, like those who are protesting political cartoons of which they find existentially offensive, ready for a Holy War of apocalyptic proportions. Our own country is in such disarray, disrepute, and internal disruption and corruption, while disseminating dissembling and obfuscating red herrings through the free press, that absurd is becoming a term bound for extinction. Wars are piggybacking upon one another. Social stratification is trending toward the medieval. And, popular culture offers for our entertainment:
Wife Swap/Dancing with the Stars/Survivor, Panama; Exile Island/Dr. Phil/The Biggest Loser/Skating with Celebrities/Deal or No Deal/Trading Spouses…you get the idea. A cursory look at video games, probably the fastest growing industry right now, would kill the average grandmother. Scientists now (generally) agree that global warming is approaching a tipping point. The Simpsons, South Park, Family Guy, and The Boondocks are closer to reality than reality itself. The crazier and more strident actors such as Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly on one hand, and their ideological counterparts, Kim Jong Il, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Barbara Streisand on the other, have an exponentially larger audience than, for instance, Chris Hedges, Pamela Yates (“State of Fear”), Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther King, et al who advocate Mr. Foster Wallace’s empathetic view.
It is certain that, in Yeats’ words,
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
And we must find a way of talking to each other without hysterics, without blaspheming each others’ beliefs, without lying, and without the ulterior motives of wealth and power.
Soon we shall have hearings on the Able Danger program; we shall get Phase Two of The Senate Report on Iraqi WMD Intelligence; the Plame affair should reach some point of repose, the Abramoff scandal will unravel, and we’ll have more to hear on Cheney’s friendly fire, although we are more likely to ressurect the amazing Eric Dolphy before we actually get to the truth on any of the above.
Certain conclusions may be inferred from remarks implicit above relative to David Foster Wallace. In fact, I enthusiastically recommend all of DFW’s books, especially the last two,