Transcendental Bloviation

Politics, Space, Japan

Thursday, September 02, 2004

I just want someone to hate

I've been following the reaction to Marc Cooper's reaction to Naomi Klein's Bring Najaf to New York. Cooper is indignant, and accuses Klein of being an "apologist" for islamo-fascists.

Well, let's hate Naomi Klein. Or, hey, let's hate George W. Bush. Or let's hate Moqtada al Sadr. For heaven's sake, hate somebody.

"You don't understand how the Fuhrer made us feel!" insisted Eichmann, in his own defense - according to one screenwriter, anyway. And isn't that the important thing? Dispassion can reinforce depression - to be able to feel again provides a basis for action. Rational action? Well, perhaps not, but to move is to live.

Someone posting in Cooper's comment section quoted an interesting bit from one of Moqtada al Sadr's firebrand lieutenants, and in searching for the source, I found it in this interesting New Yorker article, Caught in the Crossfire. Pay special attention to what one of the author's informants calls "the middle level of mind."
The doctor said that he belonged to “the middle level of mind” in Iraqi society, somewhere between the strictly religious masses and the secular élite. “There are many Iraqis like me,” he said. In Iraq, there is nothing unusual about a doctor who loves Marilyn Monroe and Cary Grant, desires the public whipping of prostitutes, and believes that executed homosexuals got what they deserved. Yet Shaker’s mix of traditional and modern views causes him considerable inner conflict. “I hate Iraq,” he said. “And I love it.” He longs to live abroad, but fears the moral climate outside the country. He is wary of the Western images that appear on his television screen, though he installed a satellite dish on his roof when it was illegal, and dangerous, to own one. He adores his new wife, an independent-minded woman who wears low-cut shirts, but he wants her to start covering her hair and acting like a traditional Muslim woman when she moves to Baghdad. His work fascinates him, but he is concerned that his daily immersion in death will make him less spiritual. “The doctor of forensic medicine deals only with bodies,” he said. “So maybe in the end I will become like you—an existentialist.”
The quote that inspired the search invokes a muslim-world urban legend: that jews had been warned away from the Twin Towers before 9/11, so that none died. Of course, plenty of jews died in that attack - for that matter, the percentage of muslim casualties exceeded their proportion in the U.S. population as a whole. Well, never mind - that just muddies one's thinking, does it not? How can one know what to feel? Strength through hatred, strength through joy - strength wherever you can find it. Your average Iraqi might disparage the relative balance of a channel like Al Jazeera, compared to the more usual conspiracy-theory-ridden fair of other news sources, because they aren't used to news that isn't telling them how to feel, but rather just telling them the facts.

Facts must be of service, after all, and if those you serve aren't interested, or are actually hostile to the facts ... well, someone once said, "unused knowledge is a burden." In Iraq today, disenfranchised Ba'athists - even some who worked for a while with the Occupation - are signing up as functionaries for islamists, both in the Sunni-dominant regions and the Shia-dominant regions. This move is all of a piece in the all-important matter of knowing what to feel, even when that means abandoning the truth. It's a sort of Stockholm Syndrome writ large - society-wide, in fact.

War is captivity. Long in captivity, one can stop feeling, can succumb to depression. Hatred expressed against captors is only expression of impotence, and can at best only earn you blows. But sympathizing with one's captors opens you up to feel again. And from your captors, you can receive a predigested set of feelings to refill your dessicated soul - hatred of your captors' enemies not least among them. Nuance, ambiguity, reason, the withholding of judgment - what attraction or satisfaction can any of those adult cognitive responsibilities hold for a social captive, reduced to a state of child-like dependency and incomprehension in a chaotic world? No, what you want is a conspiracy theory, no matter that it is an improbable one. A conspiracy theory orders your world-view immediately. And it tells you clearly who you should hate. And as for love, how can you not love the theory's messenger in that event, whether your captor-messenger is a George W. Bush, or a Moqtada al-Sadr?

War and economic depression makes hostages of us all. And hostages will side with captors. As a species, we're wired to make the best of bad situations. And that wiring just guarantees that the bad situations will repeat.


At 9:17 PM, Blogger jqb said...

Hi, Michael. Since I am banned from Marc's blog (still the only such person, I think, though he keeps threatening "steve"), allow me to post here my comments that I emailed you on this topic (with a typo fixed). (BTW, why have you stopped blogging? You write great stuff.)

In case you folks didn't catch it, Marc silently removed Al Giordano's response to his slander of Naomi Klein, though (oversight?) he did leave the mention of (no, I didn't post it; I'm still banned and haven't bothered to seek out an alternative IP address), where you can find the article. IMO, Al gets it right -- do be sure to read it.

Cooper, OTOH, can't even be bothered to get the title right: 'I'll grant it has a catchy title: "From Najaf to New York."' No, the title is the very phrase that he finds so objectionable -- "Bring Najaf to New York". And far from being a "non-sensical" or "morally objectionable" "equation", it's meaning is crystal clear from the opening of her second paragraph -- "What surprises me is what isn't here: Najaf. It's nowhere to be found." What's missing is awareness of, and responsibility for, what's happening in Najaf. It isn't a plea to impose a theocracy on New York or occupy its mosques or whatever veiled equivalent Marc is reading into it. Sheesh.

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