Empty Days

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Poetico-pedestrian reflections ::

Yes, politics is one mighty hot chess-game. Not even football - football is just way too straightforward. But imagine a chess-board with more than two sides. And everybody is trying to think 15 moves in advance - that's what the whole pundit obsession stands for, prognostication.

In chess the ability to think 15 moves in advance usually means victory - or "see, I told you so". The difference is of course concealment. You can't conceal pieces on the chess-board and how they relate to each other, but you do have a lot of unknown stuff going on in the politico-land. The game is played with only some of the pieces revealed. It's not just strategy - it's also guessing which existing positions are still hidden and trying to flash them out. The "gotcha" factor of journalism. When the media slack on that front the game becomes double-blind. Prognostication out of thin air takes precendence. This is hype.

So I guess if you're not a pundit or a wanna be, but just an observer in the empassioned crowd surrounding the players, what are you to make of all of this - and is it of any benifit to imagine yourself playing the game? That's where most people are when they read the papers - "not in the loop" by far.

What interests me is where the wind is drifting. The general impact of changing tides rather than the convoluted minutiae of pointy developments. Details don't move people - tides do.

The principal danger of too much detail is that it deceives you into believing that you are "well informed" and are therefore capable of making enlightened judgements. That you are a pundit. The whole punditry entreprise is based and rooted in this particular delusion. By contrast, it wouldn't be an exaggeration to claim that most game-makers, the ones who constitute the pieces on the politico chess-board, are probably quite less "informed" than the all-knowing pundits. Yet they act. They act and ride the waves - without too much detail.

How are tides created? What sets the zeitgeist? The central experience of democracy is that you cannot go against the tide - you gotta ride the wave. Many smart people forget that. Bowing to error is sometimes inescapable - trying to reverse the tide is not done through details (alternatively known as "more information") but through trying to plug into whatever undercurrents might be in existence, and create a new wave.

This involves mythology. You have to sense where the wind is blowing, what breath moves vast masses. There is truth and there is truth. The truth of details and the truth of tides. You gotta know who you're talking to - not just what to say.

This is both a dire and a fascinating spectacle. It is not that people are easily deceived - people are easily deceived only when it sits well with them to be so deceived. Remember Nazi Germany or any other such spectacular example - this is not really a story or good and evil, this is a story of willingness to ride a certain wave. Sometimes you cannot escape error - sometimes it just looks too good not to give in.

Clarke and the tide of times

I look at the Clarke debate and it reveals some of these tides. Noam Chomsky called his new blog "Turning the Tide" - there is nothing in it that supports that name but I can see the intention - bound to fall flat. I look at the democrats campaigning over in the USA and I cannot understand how they expect to win while insisting to go against the tide. What is this tide?

Look at the Clarke debate again. He tried to point out some things about Iraq and how Bush and Co relate to it. Who listens to him? Those who think the war was wrong to begin with; those who think Bush was wrong to begin with. Yet look where the tide is - people do not think the war is wrong; many do not think Bush is wrong. Why?

Forget the details - look at the big picture. In the big picture USA is at war with vicious killers and it has a clear enemy it can fight with all its weaponry. What's more, it is once again perpetraiting its image as the "beacon of freedom" in dark places of the world. It doesn't matter how true or untrue it is - this is at the heart of popular mythology, "it brings the nation together". Sure does - why else would you be willing to die overseas? Why else did millions of Germans march to their death in the hope of winning over the world? Willing heros or willing executioners - it never mattered.

No, I am not saying that americans are somehow being fascist at the moment. I am just saying that you can't very well spit at those things that "bring a nation together" - it's no use spitting on it, you have to work with this somehow. Bush, in the aftermath of 9/11 did just that - and many americans love him to bits just for that fact. Those who are not so sure about Bush, are still pretty sure about the war. That's what the Clarke thing revealed once again. What it also revealed is that too many Bush-detractors are not up to that fact - they still wish it were otherwise, they think they can still change that. They can't.

"Beacon of freedom" and "bringing the nation together" are one and the same thing. The only tide that could still be reversed is the one that equates Bush with these things. And I don't see too many detractors working on it. Perhaps because they're too averse to the whole idea - too convinced that war in Iraq was/is/will always be "a very bad error" (examplified by Ed Bradley's misguided questions to C.Rice on the latest 60 Minutes). Perhaps they will be proven right - after another few years of Bush. They'll say - "see, I told you so". And they'll say - "gotcha". And many other things beside.


The way this whole Clarke episode has developped shows once more what you can't change, where the tide is, where people stand, who is losing, who is winning and why.

The anti-Bush crowd is clearly losing - because they can't capitalize on the very obvious. Rather they want to ignore it so they may continue to promote a losing cause.

Yet, it's pretty clear cut by now: you can go after Bush, but you can't go against Iraq. You can undermine Bush's grip on that war (and that's what Clarke tried to do sharply enough) but you cannot go against the war itself in the same breath - by doing so you're going against a huge tide, what "brings the nation together", the goddam "beacon of freedom".

In short you're just yapping.

I haven't been very thorough and exhaustive in discovering who had to say what and where, but so far I haven't heard/seen anything clear-sighted enough to carry Clarke's thing to the next level. It's probably forthcoming - when it will be way too late in any case.

Perhaps what it shows also is that there's little unity of voice among anti-Bush people. The left sings the loudest - but they're pretty much useless by being too self-serving. Or it can be seen this way: the true unity here is the anti-war conviction, which is the most self-defeating thing imaginable at this point.

My father, Bush, and I

All this has actually a rather personal meaning for me. Because my father (who is something the opposite of your imaginary redneck rancher) is an ardent Bush-supporter, he loves the man, and I want to understand him on this. I also want to understand why I myself can't stand Bush and his rhetoric. It's a family thing - it's also a question of how to talk (and listen) to people who hold diverging ideas.

Well, one thing I know about my dad is that he's been a crusader-for-justice all his life. The world is black-and-white to him, it's either all good, or all bad. He's not a hater, but he can work himself up into a holy anger over something he sees as wrong. Basically, he's been a fool all his life - and paid the price. At the same time, he's a kindly generous passionate guy. I can't talk of wisdom in respect to my father. He's too young at heart for that. I think his best shot at wisdom is his inborn kindness and natural love of people. But he won't listen to wishy-washy arguments. It's always either all or nothing.

And in this Bush is certainly and very much his man. There's evil in the world and Bush stands firm against tyrants by going directly after Saddam, the bad guy. America is uniformly good and americans are inherently good and wonderful. Canada is also uniformly good and all canadians are wonderful though maybe not tough enough. The worst insult for my dad is to hear any evil against those people or things he holds dear.

Because my father doesn't really understand either english or french he gets most of his information from images and "the general gist of it". Basically, he is blissfully "uninformed" - and in this he is probably closer to the heart of America than I am, or most people I consort with.

In many respects I am a bit like my father. But I am of another generation and my education has been far more international and even a bit too multicultural to hold such clear-cut beliefs. My father is well aware of that and looks up to me as a sort of info-digest in case of doubt.

Iraq as the holy Mecca of America

We've had conversations about Bush and the war on Iraq, which he supported of course. I am satisfied that it is properly impossible to make him waver on the good-cause of this war - because "Saddam was evil". But when the Maher Arar affair came up, I scored a point with him by appealing to his sense of justice - by showing that authorities, even in America the land of liberty, can and do abuse their powers through bureaucratic stupidity and that this stupidity should be supervised and kept in check.

The biggest problem with people like my father is that when they believe that when something is good (America) they automatically believe that all of it is good and should be trusted without fail. This is comparable to the cult of the President in the United States. Which is no different from the Good Tsar syndrom of old Russia, that went right over to the times of Stalin - who was the Good Father and whatever evil there was came from "evil advisors" (american analogy: the President was badly councelled...). Btw - this is also why the purges went so well with the vast majority of people, since all evil came from evil servants.

These are core beliefs. Very hard to shake. The beacon of freedom doesn't really exist, but it sure exists in the hearts of millions of people - and it's really no use to try and rip it out. It can be used for greatest inequity and it can be used for greatest benefit. Quite a lot of harm can be done in its name, but it doesn't affect the core ideal. No use bitching against it.

So taking my father as an example, I sometimes wonder, hypothetically, what would it take to make him change his mind about Bush - if not the war in Iraq. It seems an impossible task. He finds the man warm, honest, straightforward and a great defendor of all good against all evil. By contrast, what irritates me about Bush is his stupidity and narrow-mindedness - something that doesn't bother my father at all, perhaps because of certain affinities.

So what it is we really differ on? Is it Bush, Iraq or rather a certain system of beliefs? It could very well be the latter - in which case our disagreement is unbridgeable. My father believes in universal good and universally good leaders - he looks for comfirmations to his beliefs. I don't believe any such thing exists and find no arguments to the contrary. But most people are not pessimists - and I don't want them to adopt my point of view.

But while I can't find enough good, I certainly want at least a basic measure of truth. This is the fundamental difference between me and my father - different priorities. He gladly lies and accepts lies in the name of perceived good - just as Bush does. I can't really stomach that sort of approach, perhaps because I view most good as "perceived".

Sure, I get fooled too. Often. I am not all-knowing. I err and miss out on stuff. And I wasn't cheering for this war not because of Bush or because I was genuinely sorry for the coming death and destruction. It was the rashness and blatant unwillingness to pave the proper way for this massive deed that bothered me most. Still bothers me in fact.

As the war went on I surely did not want USA to lose out and run. But I don't like the way they manage it so far and I think the reason they're having such a hard time in Iraq is a direct consequence of that initial rashness - they set out wrong and they keep doing it wrong. I think there is massive room for improvement. Which would require some serious change of policy - involving the international community, changing the perception of this war in the world, all of the things Bush doesn't want to hear about.

Casting a different light on this war is far more important than just pumping loads of cash into a devastated country. Hope is a fantasy - it must be created. My father is currently content that his man Bush has won the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The news do not reach him that neither of these two places is anywhere close to a done deal. I do not discuss it with him these days because it's useless. It's useless for me, for my father and most obviously it is perfectly useless for both Iraq and Afghanistan.

The truth is - nothing is settled yet. Obviously, being a "good american" is just not enough. You also gotta be smart. It would really help a lot to be smarter here. Hopefully this will sink in at some point and people start thinking how to do it better, instead of bitching about or congratulating themselves on non-existent triumphs or lamenting over horrible defeats.

It's just my opinion. I don't press it on my father, I don't press it on others. Because it doesn't matter. That's the bottomline, ladies and gentlemen.

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