Monday, April 03, 2006


The sound on NPR this morning was the sound of the narrative disappearing. Deborah Amos reported not just on how civil war has probably already started (the meaning behind the words of the report) but on how it all went wrong: when Americans invaded Fallujah, they had no "cultural sensitivity" at all. No one who spoke Arabic, no translators; and shaming men and women in public, all in the name of "security." And, shockingly, if you kill the people you mean to liberate, they don't look kindly on you and decide maybe they should help you.

But doesn't this mean we are responsible for what is happening in Iraq? And couldn't that mean we were just as responsible for what happened on 9/11? That, ineed, no man is an island, and whatever our actions, they have unintended consequences, and so we never stand apart from what we do, we can never separate intentions from results. No one, of course, is going quite that far on NPR, but it was exactly that result which prevented, for the longest time, any discussion about US culpability and responsibility for the present crises in the world. Now that narrative is being permitted, and even the idea that a civil war is already active in Iraq is presented in the report almost without comment; certainly without critique or contradiction.

And it's all a little too much like 1984. We have always been at war with Eurasia; except when we were at war with Oceania. Orwell had that shift in enemies and allies occur mid-speech, to dramatize the moving target of modern statecraft, the amorphous and fundamentally abstract nature of warfare. What we are seeing now is merely a slow-motion version of that speech. We stand amazed that people hate us, but listening to reports from "the other side" of the war, what is amazing is how much we still think warfare and violence are pathways to peace. I read it everywhere in left blogistan; I hear it in all the news reports. Power is the only way to success, is the only path that leads to the goal, is the only energy that will fuel the ideals we aspire to put into practice. Power is the only hope for transforming the world.

And we never stop to think that, to the person with a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail. Small wonder, then, that the mass of humans still lead lives of quiet desperation. Small wonder, then, that Merton's observations (courtesy of janeboatler) seem so trenchant. Because it does always get back to the same thing; it does always go round and round because the problem is not more power, or power used more effecively, or power used for our purposes rather than their purposes. The problem is standing inside a system that depends and relies on and worships, and is wholly controlled by, power:

It always gets back to the same thing. I have dutifully done my bit. I have been "open to the world." That is to say, I have undergone my dose of exposure to American society in the '60s - particularly in these last weeks. I love the people I run into, but I pity them for having to live as they do, and I think the world of U.S.A. in 1967 is a world of crass, blind, overstimulated, phony, lying stupidity. The war in Asia slowly gets worse - and almost more inane. The temper of the country is one of blindness, fat, self-satisfied, ruthless, mindless corruption. A lot of people are uneasy about it but helpless to do anything about it. The rest are perfectly content with the rat race as it is, and with its competitive, acquisitive, hurtling, souped-up drive to nowhere. A massively aimless, baseless, shrewd cockiness that simply exalts itself without purpose. The mindless orgasm, in which there is no satisfaction, only spasm.
How many of us can honestly get beyond the first two sentences there? It may even be we love the people we run into, but if we pity them for the way they live, don't we do it hypocritically? If "the temper of the country is one of blindness," how many of us can claim to truly see? How many of us "are uneasy about it but helpless to do anything about it," and so we beat our little fists ineffectively against our computer screens, from the inside out, pounding our keyboards because we cannot otherwise pound sense into those who seem hell bent on ruining our country? How many of us think it is any different now from how it was then, in 1967, and think so simply because 1967 is history, and we know how it turned out? How many of us think it has never been this bad, and that what America was has been corrupted, co-opted, taken over by aliens and body-snatchers and interlopers and thieves?

How many of us think it is only a question of who has the power, and not a question of why we think power is more important than anything else? How many of us contemplate the paradox of that pursuit, in the face of a crucified God, the very antithesis, the very symbol and reality and icon, of powerlessness?

"POI's" the report calls them: "Pissed Off Iraqis." Is it love that pisses people off? Or is it power? And which one are we wiser to employ?

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