Saturday, June 21, 2014

rousing the 'masses'

A neo-conservative delight?
This morning a small, brown sparrow, perhaps seven inches from crown to tail, hopped across a patch of sunlight bearing a single 10-inch strand of dried grass in its beak. Then s/he took off, headed, as I imagined it, for a nest in the distance -- some home that required shoring up ... a place of safety and nurture and rest and ... home.

It was just a bird doing what birds do and yet I wondered idly what reason there was to overlook such straightforward wisdom. No harm, no elevation, no goodness. Nothing extra. It was just a bird, for heaven's sake!

Yesterday I watched all of a three-part BBC series entitled "The Power of Nightmares." No doubt I did it an intellectual injustice by watching it all in a single day. There was so much to ingest that to suggest I digested it properly is too much. Nevertheless, there are bits and pieces that linger today ... and I think about them in ways that might bore others. And so I am going to chew that half-assed cud.

Roughly speaking, "The Power of Nightmares" retailed and detailed the rise of radical Islamism in the Middle East and the rise of neo-conservative thinking in Washington. The time frame ran from the 1950's to the present.

In the Middle East, radical Islamism arose when certain men had a vision. It was a vision of a population and hence culture that had been corrupted by the individualistic and acquisitive excesses of a western world. The vision suggested that there was a need to return to a more pure and godly way of life -- a way delineated in the Qu'ran and set forth by these men of vision. These men saw the 'truth' and the only obstacle they faced was getting the rest of society to see things their way.

One of the ways they imagined the 'masses' might be made to understand was through violence. So, at first they set out to kill the leaders of movements that disagreed with their own: Maybe that would jolt the masses into recognizing a higher truth. When that didn't work, they killed those who believed in the message of those whose vision diverged from the higher-truth visionaries. And when that failed to convince the confused and sinful masses, they began killing whomever was handy, including their own not-quite-pure-enough membership.

The 'masses,' seemed intractable: Rather than seeing the need for a higher, purer and more centralized authority guided by the Qu'ran, what they saw was bloodshed and, far from imagining a more peaceful world, all they could imagine is that they or their families might be next on the bloodletters' hit list.

Meanwhile, during the same time frame, a band of neo-conservatives was assembling its own vision of a more fruitful and peaceful world. Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and others favored a world in which American-sanctioned democracy would flourish and everyone would be better off. They pursued this agenda, sometimes by force and often by lies, as a counterpoint to a namby-pamby relativism they saw engulfing the liberal constructs of the era. The masses needed leadership and America -- and they -- were equipped to provide it.

Never mind if the facts suggested the Soviet Union was crumbling under its own weight: It was the virtue and manipulation of America that brought the soviets to their knees. Virtue triumphed and, from the neo-conservative point of view, America was the one with that virtue. And that virtue deserved to be expanded. There were dangers everywhere and they deserved to be ironed out... as for example in Iraq. And never mind that what would become the monolithic evil of "Al Qaida" was a courtroom ploy manufactured out of whole cloth. And never mind ... well, never mind so much fabrication in aid of a more righteous vision.

Still, the neo-conservative agenda, like the pure land of the Qu'ran, failed to gain an overarching support. There was too much blood and too little documented benefit. And yet, like the Islamists who upped the bloody game they seemed incapable of revising, the neo-cons pressed forward with a dismal view of a brighter tomorrow. They too became what they abhorred in order to raise up what they adored ... liars, bloodletters, and throne-sitters who envisioned what everyone else (the masses) failed to envision.

And where a little shock might have some effect, perhaps a larger shock might have more.

As I say, I watched the BBC series in a gulp and probably missed a lot. Nevertheless I could not help but think that the demolition of the World Trade Towers (et al) on Sept. 11, 2001, could be seen as representing a bolstering of the intersecting ideals of both the neo-cons and the radical Islamists.

The series does not suggest that the two groups colluded. But the serendipity of intersecting desires is hard to overlook. How useful to the purists of Islam to see the direct attack on a corrupting influence. And how useful to the neo-cons to demonstrate the results of a namby-pamby relativism run amok ... see what happens when America does not take the helm and rule with a firm-but-'democratic' hand?

The two groups may not have colluded, but I can imagine the neo-cons kicking themselves if they didn't envision and implement the demolition for their own purposes. What a great idea!

And it was a great idea. However wobbly the reasoning, it led to an invasion of Afghanistan. It led to the creation and expansion of the Department of Homeland Security, an agency charged with keeping an eye on the unruly and relativistic masses. And then, to cap things off, fear ascended as the new basis on which to assert power: It wasn't quite as enticing as "a chicken in every pot," but, from where the purists and visionaries sit, it would have to do as they reconfigured a world that was corrupt and crumbling.

I'm not a fan of wack-job conspiracy theories. But I am also not a fan of ignoring accumulated evidence which points in directions other than what is popularly acclaimed. The BBC series offers a good set of such pointers.

Meanwhile, the sparrow has no doubt made it home, shored up its dwelling and is off on some other straightforward task.

Nothing relativistic in that.

1 comment:

  1. History is made of such things, traceable dominoes. What struck me most was that both sides feared the effects of consumerism on humanity. Yet both sides required the financing of capitalism ventures to mount their campaigns. We're all hypocrites in one way or another, just some are more destructive than the rest.