25 June 2010

and we're back

It is necessary to explain the world of conflicts in a background of history.

Going back to the beginnings of the industrial/capitalistic age, there was developing a compelling narrative about the lack of concerns and dehumanising aspects of industrial and urban life. These new mechanised, high intensity, worlds were worlds apart from those of the agrarian planter and his own private clan (or often, his slaves), and the adjustment was jarring for most. Against that change spawned a series of explanations for this new social condition of humanity and waves of revolutionary fervor. Marxism, Anarchism, and eventually these narratives culminated in the seizure of power in Russia and some of the worst excesses of power in imagination: Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism, and the world spent decades trembling only minutes of nuclear annihilation as this narrative set itself against that of a narrative of individual freedom and liberties that were loosened and increased by the powers of markets, trade, and the impetus of an enlightened self-interest given by the "invisible hand".

The reason that conflict was "won", was that a compelling counter narrative developed, and system continued to operate which seemed to work better at answering the problems of human suffering and privation.

The modern conflict is based around the same questions of human suffering. A story is told and weaved which explains why you hate your job, why you don't have one, why your wife is somehow inadequate or acts in ways you find inappropriate, why your children are threatened by your neighbours, and so on. That story is in part weaved in with larger and less threatening stories like those of the troubles in far away places and settles on finding a convincing villain in the powerful elites of countries who are clients to Western powers. That is an ideological story. There's some religion tossed in there to make it sound more cosmic and mystical. And after all, who would want to go to war over an idea if it were not for service of their God? But the real problem is that the counter narrative lacks its credibility. We had to evolve out of many problems over the 20th century in the same manner. Marxism made much propaganda out of the division of races in the West. We eventually applied some remedies to the matter. Not simply because we were told to do so by Marxists (I suspect we sort of figured out it was pointless and costly to do in the systematic way we had conjured up) but perhaps in part because that shit was just aggravating to be lorded over on by them. Giving your enemy something they can use in their story is not useful to building a better one for yourself.

This is more or less what the enemy can tell itself.
We have tortured, maimed, and imprisoned people against their will and, crucially, against our own values. That makes us hypocrites when we talk about freedom and tolerance for diversity.

We have invaded various nations with minimal or even no aggressive actions taken by those nations. And propped up various corrupt and repressive regimes when it (supposedly) serves our interests in places like Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, (to say nothing of what has become of Iraq and Afghanistan, and to a far lesser extent Israel's control over the West Bank and Gaza). While suppressing democratic results in Palestine and reacting supportively of non-democratic reactions in places like Iran, and almost any of the former Soviet Republics (Georgia and the -Stans in particular). And reacting with hostility toward impressions of free diplomatic action on the part of nominal allies like Turkey, Japan, or Brazil. This again, makes us hypocrites who don't follow our values.

I think we need to start telling a story of our own. Part of that story will and must include the brutality of the people we oppose. Islamists have perpetrated grave damage and destruction upon other Muslims to a far, far, far greater extent than they have upon their selected bogeyman in the West. Much of the killing in Afghanistan or Iraq or Pakistan, Chechnya, or the Sudan is predicated on this. I think also most of this story won't be ours to make. Islam itself must wage war between its extremes and its historical center. There always will be, as there appears to be always in Christendom, a boiling fragment that looks down upon its titular allies with disgust at their presumed impieties and impurities, but if this fragment is marginalised by louder and calmer voices, it will lack much of the capacity to tell a story that weaves faith and holy crusades into the stream of data coming back at people.

Most of what we can do with this story is try living up to some of these ideals we have and let more people alone around the globe. That cuts a fine path through the mess and leaves us out of the bogeyman stories more often.
Post a Comment