Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Serious People


Alicublog has discovered a clever little cartoon by someone named Mrs. R, in which our sexually perverted culture (represented, naturally enough, by a slutty, tattooed single mom with plenty o’ thems and those) compels an “at-risk child” to accept the Islamic critique of Western decadence, and then to become a suicide bomber.

The story is entertainingly daft. Just for starters, what drives the child to embrace Middle Eastern theology is an (alleged) ancient Egyptian perversion involving lesbians who vomit on one another. At this point, one is tempted to suggest that the storyline says more about the author’s perversion than anyone else’s, and leave it at that.

What’s really disturbing, though - because it's so ordinary - is that the cartoon sides with the terrorists’ view of America’s depravity. It’s essentially the conservative radical-chic version of Ward Churchill’s comment about the “little Eichmanns” at the WTC: Like rape victims who picked out the wrong clothes, “we” deserved what we got.

In reality, the terrorists themselves are responsible for the carnage of 9/11, and whatever their reasons may be, they’re without excuse. Those on the Right and Left who claim that “we brought it on ourselves” by being perverts or imperialists are, as Slavoj Zizek notes, avowing solidarity with the murderers rather than with their victims, a stance which he correctly calls an “ethical catastrophe.”

None of this is news, of course. Bush's handlers had barely hosed the encrusted dung off his quasi-royal nethers before Falwell and Robertson were on the TV blaming lesbians for 9/11. But in her comments section, Mrs. R makes a somewhat more arcane argument. She points out that if the “degenerate artists” of Europe hadn’t made degenerate art, they wouldn’t have run afoul of Hitler. That’s true, in a strictly logical sense (which goes to show you how much strict logic is worth). But it also suggests a somewhat too cozy relationship with Hitlerian aesthetics. Kurt Schwitters’ “Ursonate” might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but only a lunatic would feel personally affronted or endangered by it.

She goes on to complain that the Dadaists shouldn’t have “polluted” society with their perverted ideas, and that they got more or less what they deserved from Hitler for prattling about the “absurdity” of war. As it happens, Tristan Tzara joined the French Resistance in World War II, and John Heartfield was putting his life on the line to attack Hitler at a time when the American hard right was busy joining the Bund. But that’s neither here nor there. The interesting thing is that this ideology, which proposes to spread freedom across the globe, not only finds what little it comprehends of freedom to be repulsive, but also sees death by terrorism as a logical, salutary punishment for exercising artistic or sexual freedom “irresponsibly” (i.e., for exercising it, period).

I keep hearing that the Left doesn't take the threat of Islamic fundamentalism seriously. Well, I do take it seriously, and that's precisely why I don't trust the judgment of conservative hysterics who passionately identify with its hatred of secular society. Nor do I trust people who invariably explain what is, after all, a fairly straightforward problem with a glossolaliac outpouring of ahistorical scapegoating, incoherent analogy, neo-Hegelian claptrap, racialist blithering, pseudobiblical militancy, and general delirium.

Some of these people may be sincere, but none of them are serious. If they were serious, they'd make an effort to get their facts straight, if for no other reason than that it pays to know your enemy (instead of conflating "him" with everyone else on earth that you happen not to like, from Peter Singer to the Teletubbies to sexually confident women). Week after week, year after year, these people ululate about how "Islamofascists" hate us and want to kill us all, as though this were an intelligent position from which one could derive a useful strategy. The fact is, we've been calling these people "evildoers" and worse for quite some time. During that time, we've launched two wars - with no clear goals, and at an incalculable cost - and we've completely botched them both (unless our goal was to increase the appeal of anti-Western terrorism to young Muslims, which is a possibility I can't rule out).

For some reason, a number of Americans remain much more impressed by the Administration's namecalling - it's taut, elegant, alert! - than by its consistent pattern of strategic, intellectual, and moral failure. These people see fit to lecture us about seriousness, while they cut marionette capers in a blizzard of pixie dust, wearing pointy clown shoes and propeller beanies.

It makes me angry.

13 comments:

Lex said...

I keep hearing that the Left doesn't take the threat of Islamic fundamentalism seriously.

The real problem is that American fundamentalists don't take freedom seriously.

Nanette said...

re that cartoon, there are times (like at least once a day) when I just have to shake my head and think... "these people are crazy".

While I take threats, religious fundamentalism of the nuttier sort, and people with axes to grind seriously, I don't take the "War on Terror" seriously. I am not sure it's meant to be, really.

What the entire thing most reminds me of is one of those activity centers for toddlers... you know, you sit them in the playpen and hanging from the sides are all these things you can do... push this button and it rattles, pound on this thing and it blares or gurgles, poke something else and it speaks to you, telling you snippets of stories and so on. Keeps the kids occupied so that Mom and Dad can concentrate on doing the real work.

So (it seems to me) with the "War on Terror". Complete with a Crayola colors warning system. Although it is, of course, quite a bit more lethal than an activity center.

People are kept occupied searching for jihadis under every bed and in the eyes of every lone nutcase of a certain hue, dissecting dhimmitude, scaring themselves silly with caliphates and "islamofacism", cheering on failed wars that they themselves would never think of signing up to fight in, declaring victory every time yet another "Al Qaeda #2" person is killed, finding enemies in dissenters and more... While the real work of dismantling our social and environmental protections, liberties, laws, treaties, criminal justice system, privacy protections, media independence, educational systems and consolidating executive power goes on in the background - with full throated support from the purportedly "small government" faction, because it's all part of the "War on Terror".

This is not only happening in the US, of course, although it does seem we have a more accelerated version, and certainly a more fearful populace that makes it all much easier.

Serious discussion of how to effectively deal with radicals, religious and otherwise, using tried and true methods (or coming up with new ones that might work better) is not encouraged, whether coming from our own experts in the various government agencies or leaders of other countries.

Ahem. Sometimes I am a bit brevity impaired, I know.

Phila said...

I don't take the "War on Terror" seriously. I am not sure it's meant to be, really.

Well, its rhetorical purpose is to describe a conflict in which there's minimum room for dissent. It's like saying "The War on Evil." What kind of terrible person would oppose the War on Evil?

The actual goals of this war - if you can call it that - have very little to do with fighting or preventing terrorism. Basically, I agree with what you say here:

While the real work of dismantling our social and environmental protections, liberties, laws, treaties, criminal justice system, privacy protections, media independence, educational systems and consolidating executive power goes on in the background - with full throated support from the purportedly "small government" faction, because it's all part of the "War on Terror".

Exactly right, in my view. And one problem with this, of course, is that it makes terrorist acts and threats exceedingly valuable aids in achieving these goals. Which means that our relationship with terrorism is symbiotic. That's another reason why it's unwise to view 9/11 as punishment for our real or imagined sins; Zizek argues that it's actually BushCo and the terrorists against the rest of us, and I think that's a fairly sane way to look at things.

Ahem. Sometimes I am a bit brevity impaired, I know.

No need to apologize. What you have to say would be well worth reading at many times the length. I appreciate your comments very much.

Toby Petzold said...

Phila:

I keep hearing that the Left doesn't take the threat of Islamic fundamentalism seriously. Well, I do take it seriously, and that's precisely why I don't trust the judgment of conservative hysterics who passionately identify with its hatred of secular society.

If you really were serious about the evils of Islamic fundamentalism, you wouldn't make the frivolous argument that conservative American Christians are anywhere near as anti-modern and anti-secular as these salafist psychopaths. It's just not a serious comparison.

Nor do I trust people who invariably explain what is, after all, a fairly straightforward problem with a glossolaliac outpouring of ahistorical scapegoating, incoherent analogy, neo-Hegelian claptrap, racialist blithering, pseudobiblical militancy, and general delirium.

And what is this "fairly straightforward problem"?

The moment you begin to define it, you're going to find yourself in a world of rationalizations, hypocrisy, and incoherence. I am sure of it.

Phila said...

If you really were serious about the evils of Islamic fundamentalism, you wouldn't make the frivolous argument that conservative American Christians are anywhere near as anti-modern and anti-secular as these salafist psychopaths. It's just not a serious comparison.

That may be true, and it may not. Either way, though, it's a strawman argument. If you look at the cartoon I linked to, the sympathy with the extremist anti-Western viewpoint is quite explicit. The point is not that Xtian fundies are "ust as bad"; it's that they're portraying themselves as the ones who "understand" how to deal with Islamic terrorism. They aren't. They're stone crazy, willfully ignorant boobs who are constitutionally incapable of doing anything other than making a bad situation worse.

In other words - as I said already - I don't trust them. Give me one good reason why I should.

And what is this "fairly straightforward problem"?

Religious and nationalist extremists want to launch terrorist attacks against the United States in order to destabilize it.

It's a serious problem. It deserves serious attention from serious people. That leaves out corrupt ideologues with messianic delusions and a pathological inability to adapt to new circumstances. And it also leaves out ciphers like yourself, whose contribution to the discussion has never amounted to very much more than "exterminate the brutes."

Toby Petzold said...

Phila:

The point is not that Xtian fundies are "ust as bad"; it's that they're portraying themselves as the ones who "understand" how to deal with Islamic terrorism. They aren't.

Well, they've taken the charge by default, it appears, because the so-called progressives and enlightened liberals in this society are themselves constitutionally incapable of advocating anything like women's rights or other civil rights in the Muslim world. Why should that be?

The Left takes the side of the Islamofascists because they have the same enemy: the Chimperor. The pathetic thing about that is that the Islamofascists would just as soon slit their infidel throats as they would Bush's.

Phila said...

the so-called progressives and enlightened liberals in this society are themselves constitutionally incapable of advocating anything like women's rights or other civil rights in the Muslim world. Why should that be?

You know, not only is that not true, but it's also kinda disrespectful to the people who've actually risked their lives to help women in Islamic countries. (Some of 'em have had offices firebombed, for instance. And worse.)

Here are just a few of the groups and people that actually fight for the issue you pay lip service to (while agitating to nuke Mecca - women and all - like the cynical fucking jackal you are): Women's Human Rights Net; Feminist Majority Foundation; PeaceWomen; Human Rights Watch; Anita Roddick; Code Pink; International Humanist and Ethical Union; Feministing; Women Living Under Muslim Laws; Amnesty International; Human Rights First; Witness.org.

I'll betcha Eleanor Smeal knew about the Taliban before you did. And does Katha Pollitt count as an "enlightened liberal" to you? 'Cause here she is writing in 1999:

Islamic fanaticism is sending women back to the Middle Ages. In the Taliban's Afghanistan, women are banned from schooling, jobs, healthcare and public life, and are subject to beatings and stonings.

And please note, Toby, that the situation for women in Afghanistan is not a hell of a lot better today, as I noted here; there's lots more information available on this stuff, of course.

I could find thousands of other examples of liberals decrying this stuff and fighting against it - before, during, and after 9/11 - but you know what? It doesn't matter, because unlike people with functioning moral compasses, you don't actually care what's true and what isn't.

The Left takes the side of the Islamofascists because they have the same enemy: the Chimperor.

Yes. You betcha. We all hate Bush so much that we're siding with power-hungry religious extremists who hate women, and hate gays, and hate freedom of speech, and have endless, convoluted restrictions on music and art and dancing and sex and God knows what else. Bush is going to be out of office in less than two years, of course, but it's still worth it to side with people who want to kill us, because we hate him that much.

No offense, but you really are a complete fucking moron.

Lex said...

If you really were serious about the evils of Islamic fundamentalism, you wouldn't make the frivolous argument that conservative American Christians are anywhere near as anti-modern and anti-secular as these salafist psychopaths. It's just not a serious comparison.

Oh, given the widespread influence of Christian Nationalism (a/k/a Dominionism) among the upper reaches of the Republican Party in both government and the private sector, I'd say it's not a frivolous argument at all. Read Michelle Goldberg's book "Kingdom Coming" for more info.

Lex said...

Well, they've taken the charge by default, it appears, because the so-called progressives and enlightened liberals in this society are themselves constitutionally incapable of advocating anything like women's rights or other civil rights in the Muslim world.

I'm sorry, but in what alternative universe is this claim true? Because it certainly isn't true in this one.

Lex said...

Yo, Phila: Smarter trolls, please.

Phila said...

Yo, Phila: Smarter trolls, please.

You're stuck with this one, I'm afraid. Most of the others were of the hit and run variety.

Toby's less a troll than a rather sad fellow with a masochistic streak.

Engineer-Poet said...

Noam Chomsky has met with (and praised) Islamic radicals.  Ken Livingstone (ultra-leftist mayor of London) has sucked up to Islamists who would kill gays.  Both are still held up as icons of the left.

The impression some people get from this is that the left hates Western civilization more than it wants to survive.  (Listened to any peak-oil doomers lately?  The suicidal impulses are hardly concealed.)  They want to destroy it; to this end, they've allied with Islamists even at the cost of their own existence.

I have a really hard time finding holes in that argument.

Phila said...

I have a really hard time finding holes in that argument.

That's a shame, because the argument is utterly incoherent. I'll leave the Chomsky remark aside, since you couldn't be bothered to provide a link, but I will say that the series of mental leaps required to get from your anecdote about Ken Livingston to the claim that "the Left has allied itself with radical Islam" are as enormous as they are irrational.

I've made my own complaints about suicidal, anti-civilization feelings on the Left more than once (or to be more precise, the form that those widespread feelings take on the Left), but I reject the notion that those feelings involve siding with radical anti-female Islam.

And I also note that in the cases I've come across, pretty much all of the "evidence" for this alliance has been based on specious logic - like yours - or impatience with the standard humanist objections to genocide and racism, like Toby's.

I stand by my belief that people who are deluded enough to believe in any sort of alliance between the American Left and Islamic fundamentalism constitute an obstacle to resolving the problem posed by terrorism, and are also unwitting enemies of the civilized values they propose to uphold.