Thursday, July 07, 2005

Just a Little Despair

Like everyone, I'm very tired of that feeling that comes from turning on the TV and seeing another scene of carnage, hearing reporters talking once again about attacks and bombs and mass casualties, that feeling that the world has gone crazy. I guess you learn to live with it, this idea that at any time someone or something you love could be destroyed by people who strike without warning and who don't really seem to want anything other than to cause chaos. I guess you learn to live with it, because there is no other choice, but I haven't. I have some questions I really want answered. And I want some answers right now, even though I know those answers aren't forthcoming. Here they are anyway. 1. What the fuck do these assholes want? I know the easy answer is that they want nothing less than the destruction of the West. But I have to tell you, I don't believe that. I think they need a large enemy they can rail futilely against. Their cause seem to be only that they are against us. That's not something you can build a society around, so I have to say, I don't believe they want to "win" in a way that I understand winning. I don't think they want our complete destruction, because it would mean their obsolescence. Do they just want to sow chaos and destruction? Is that really what they want? Are we fighting a war against people who have no intention of winning? What then? 2. How do you fight a war against people who have no intention of winning? Who aren't afraid to lose spectacularly? Who are already willingly blowing themselves up? If they aren't afraid of death, what effective threat can we hold against them? 3. How do you fight a war against people who have little more in common than a hatred of us? There is no Terrorstan to invade, no citizens of Terrorstan we can subjugate. Anyone at any time could decide to strap a bomb to himself and walk into a subway station. How do you fight a war against an action? I know how you fight a war against a country or an ethnic group or even a religious group. I can see how you'd identify your adversary and go after him. But I still don't understand how we can ever win a war on terror. It seems to me that we've declared ourselves to be perpetually at war against potentially everyone. 4. Assuming Bush's foreign policy is right, that we have to change Arab hearts and minds in order to stop terrorism (though I'm really starting to think there are two levels of anti-Western sentiment--the madmen who sew chaos and the Arab people who don't mind that the madmen do, because it helps their political ends and that one might change one group, but never the other), is invading countries and setting up democracies and then ratcheting back our involvement the best way to go? What if they democratically elect people who hate us? How does that help us? And why can't we talk about this shit? Why is it that, when it comes to the 'war on terror'--whatever that is--we act like the answers are so clear cut, that either we're doing everything right or everything wrong, and there's no room for difficult, nuanced discussion?


Blogger Sam Holloway said...

Hello, Aunt B.

Lovely blog, interesting questions.

If I had the answers to your questions, I'd most likely have been nailed to a large piece of wood by now.

Anyway, if you haven't already, I suggest you read "Persepolis" by Marjane Satrapi. Among other things, Ms. Satrapi illustrates how the mullahs and the religious thugs took over Iran. Basically, all the progressive elements in Iranian society-- those who might have constructed a reasonably peaceful, western-friendly democratic society-- were killed, jailed, or exiled by the West's well-heeled henchman, the Shah. See, what them there Western oil companies didn't want was a moderate, socialist democracy which would use Iran's oil profits to benefit its own people. That would have set a bad precedent, and might have led to us fat, greedy Westerners paying a fair price for the stuff (oil) our economic empire running.

I digress. After the shah got rid of all the progressive elements (and the commies, too), the only people willing and able to match his savagery and organizational skills were the religious extremists. These people weren't completely stupid, and they realized who had supported the shah (and who was bankrolling their colonial Middle Eastern nemesis, Israel). That's why they took our embassy.

Anyway, the kooks who took out the WTC and the Pentagon on 9/11 were former clients of ours. We essentially hired them to do our dirty work against the commies in Afghanistan, then left them on their own. Blowback, anyone?

In short, most people "over there" are a lot like us (if poorer): they aren't looking to rock anyone's boat, especially there own. But when conditions breed poverty and despair, sometimes people who feel like they have no control over their lives do some pretty horrendous things.

Here in the ├╝ber-wealthy States, we drown our despair in booze, heroin, crystal meth, and bad television. Over in places where reactionary violence has become part of the post-colonial societal tapestry, they sometimes form apocalyptic militant groups. An oversimplification, I know, but I've already taken up too much space with this nonsense...

7/07/2005 06:34:00 PM  
Blogger Taketoshi said...

I have to say I agree with Church Secretary's blog post on the subject of today's attacks, if not with the relevance of his comment here to answer the questions you pose. I do think the biggest question we have to face in a war situation in which literally hundreds of thousands of iraqis (innocent and involved both) have been injured and killed there, is why we have such a tremendous problem dealing with the ramifications of that war for ourselves. We're only barely able to deal with the 1,700 soldiers we've lost in Iraq (an amazingly low number given the length of the conflict so far), but when our own civilians end up injured and killed (as always happens on both sides of a war) we act as though no one ever died in the history of the world.

I'm not condemning any of the countries involved in military action in Iraq, but I also know that none of those countries is innocent of doing exactly what we revile the terrorist for doing--that is, intentionally targeting civilians as part of a military operation. The rhetoric (gut-wrenching and heartfelt for some listeners, hollow and cynical for others) around these attacks reminds us that these people DON'T have a mission except to destroy us, that they don't have an image of how the world would be other than to simply not have us around. Their actions become senseless and they themselves become ridiculous figures, having already lost as you say, aunt B.

But there's a certain imperialism, for me, even in making the claim that they have no vision of victory. Imagining a world without us (either involved or existing, depending on how one interprets these actions) might be as wrong-headed as folks lamenting the fact that the North enforced the abolition of slavery or the peaceniks trying to get nuclear weapons banned because their mere existence is a danger to life, but people lived in this region for thousands of years without the influence of european/western powers and their particular ideas of social structure and especially of values (religious or secular), and I (for one) won't step forward and tell them that trying to find a way back to that time is a meaningless pursuit.

7/07/2005 07:59:00 PM  
Blogger Taketoshi said...

p.s. my heart does go out to the victims of these attacks and their loved ones, the same as it does to our soldiers and their families, and victims of violence around the world. war is a shitty way to live, but we can't both want it and shut it away in a box somewhere hoping it won't affect us.

7/07/2005 08:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Persepolis really is a very good book though it won't answer any of B's questions.


7/07/2005 08:06:00 PM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

Hello, Church Secretary,

Glad to have you stop by.

You've written a thoughtful, truthful, heartfelt response and so I'm a little sorry to have to ask this, but I will anyway: So what?

Hmm. Maybe that's not exactly what I mean.

On the one hand, I firmly believe it's very important for us to understand how it is that we've gotten to this point.

On the other hand, I think it leads to a blurring of the distinction between "tit for tat" and "got what they deserved." I'm comfortable with a view of history that argues a kind of tit for tat version of events. Muslims insult our sense of self with their progressive attitudes towards science and math and women and their conquest of Jerusalem, so we attack them and try to run them out of the Holy City, so they conquer Spain, so Spain runs them out and sends Columbus here, and so there's a tea party, and the Barbary pirates and on and on and on from Sarah giving Hagar to Abraham with the resulting animosity between Isaac and Ishmael to Iago instigating Desdemona's murder at the hands of Othello to whatever little story we tell ourselves now to explain how things are.

But that's not the same thing as "because we did [blank] we deserve [insert crappy thing]." And I think that's an important distinction to make. There is no transcendant "deserve." You can't have a transcendant "deserve" in a multi-religious world, for one thing. You can't unexaminedly insist that there's one set of rules we all are playing by, and any implication that we "deserve" anything also implicitly means that there is some transcendant set of rules that we all adhere to, and clearly, that's bullshit.

And the other thing is that you can't repeatedly tell Westerners that they are individuals responsible only for themselves (which has been the transcendent and defining myth of, at least, the U.S. for as long as we've been a nation) and then insist that they understand how it is that they're responsible for actions of their government in which they have little or no real say.

(Maybe you could argue that part of the benefit of insisting that all Americans are individuals is that it makes them feel powerless to really effect change, and I would agree with you.)

The other problem with a rhetoric of "deserve" is that it implies that if we just stop doing whatever it is that's pissing folks off, they'll stop bombing us. It implies that they're rightfully punishing us for our bad behavior.

This is, for me, as a hippy liberal, a very comforting thought, that if only we could figure out what we were doing wrong, we could make them stop hurting us. It's also the same rhetoric abused women use, and, as such, I don't buy it.

If they're mad at the behavior of my government or Britain's government, then "punish" the government. But if they're punishing civilians, I can only assume that they have some problem with us.

And, if part of that problem with us is that I, with my big juicy cunt, have a job and drive a car and fuck who I want when I want (though maybe not as frequently as I want) and that I have my own money and my own name and can read and write and act all like a giant floozy if I want, then fuck them.

And not just Muslim Fundimentalists, but Christian Fundimentalists, and white supremacists, and whoever else thinks that blowing up buildings and the people in them is an acceptable way to express their anger and fear at my freedom.

7/07/2005 08:23:00 PM  
Blogger Taketoshi said...

the difficulty with your solution, aunt B., is that is presumes that these folks actually HAVE a way to punish a government.

and if you haven't noticed, it's become surprisingly hard even for legitimate governments to punish other governments these days, unless they happen to be a member of the G8 (oddly enough, meeting in the UK this week!)

i definitely don't want to suggest that anyone "deserves" what's happening, and i also don't think that the idea of "punishment" is even an appropriate metaphor to use. we don't go to war with someone to punish the people who end up dying. that might be a more human way to deal with matters--but as it is, the necessary death of war is only a means to an end...and that end is a political or a social one, the instigator of which is usually a government. the thousands dead in iraq are, by and large, not now dead because they were bad people...or even because we thought they were bad people. they didn't "deserve" to die. but we still consider their deaths justified. THAT's the double standard that really needs to be examined here.

7/07/2005 08:31:00 PM  
Blogger Taketoshi said...

oh yeah, i lost my main point:

the folks perpetrating these terrorist attacks aren't killing people because they're women who are allowed to read or drive an automobile or because they're allowed to have sex with whomever they want. they're killing these specific people because they are the cultural and economic backbone of a system that is, in some sense, inherently antagonistic to their preferred way of life. and if our sense of impotence comes from our strong individualism, it's still no shield for the fact that our government does things in our name all the time that, especially in a democratic country, we have to take responsiblity for. democracy doesn't work if we just try to wash our hands of the whole affair whenever we see something going wrong. any of the founders of modern democracy would tell you that much. we're thus targets not as free citizens, but as the most vulnerable pieces of a seemingly impregnable whole.

7/07/2005 08:37:00 PM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

But surely you can't both say that this isn't about our loose women and say that "they're killing these specific people because they are the cultural and economic backbone of a system that is, in some sense, inherently antagonistic to their preferred way of life"? I don't mean to be flip (okay, I do a little, just to lighten the mood), but what is, at heart, more culturally antagonistic to them than our whores, tramps, and hussys, our harlots?

I'm all for understanding, to some extent, but, as a feminist, I have to draw a line at just how understanding I'm going to be to people inherently hostile to me as a woman.

I wasn't actually proposing that terrorists target portions of our government as more "acceptable" targets. I think Tim McVeigh more than proved both that our government buildings are very susceptable to attack from determined whackjobs and that the cost of such targeting is unacceptably high. I was just saying that there are such targets available and, if terrorists choose not to try to hit them, then they must have a reason for choosing the targets that they do.

If it is, indeed, to be sure to get at people who represent our cultural and economic backbone, well, then, as someone who embodies a major cultural difference between their worldview and the majority (despite the intentions of our religious extremists) of ours, I'm going to be angry and take it personally.

As for the Iraqis, I don't hear anyone justifying civilian casualties. I think it's much worse than that. I've observed something more akin to "La, la, la, I can't hear you."

7/07/2005 09:01:00 PM  
Blogger Taketoshi said...

as for the antagonism of our harlots, etc. to their way of life: it's a simple question of the NIMBY policy. we don't (generally speaking, export "women of loose morals" while we DO export oil companies, military bases, and dipomatic envoys which all put pressure on local cultures to change their way of life to match ours, or at least to be more compatible with ours. so, to answer your claim, I would say I won't feel a conflict in these positions until there are forces actively at work in our country trying to take away your right to do what you like, rather than trying to get OUR fingers out of THEIR lifestyle. And Jerry Falwell and his ilk are a totally separate (since purely domestic) question.

p.s. I know that the oppression of women in these countries has been and remains a huge issue of cultural confrontation, but we see more and more evidence that our kinds of solutions aren't particularly effective.

7/08/2005 08:34:00 AM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

But we do export our harlots, up on the big screen and dancing around in their underwear while lipsyncing along to music constructed in a studio.

And so I don't believe that Falwell or Robertson or Santorum are purely domestic problems, since they are utterly in agreement with an ethos of the necessary male domination of women. Look who Robertson blamed for the September 11th attacks--feminists.

Also, I haven't given this much though--but I'm going to now--but is it a legitimate to assume that all cultures have the right to expect to be left alone to do their own thing and that, if they are not, some great wrong has taken place? When, in the course of human history, have cultures ever had the luxury of living unaffected by other cultures?

Why is living unmolested, then, seen as even a possible goal? When has that ever been possible?

I think what you're arguing for is self-determinacy--that everyone should be able to say for themselves what is right for them. And, on the surface that seems okay to me, but you don't have to look very deep to see that it rarely applies to us.

So, I'm suspicious of any rhetoric (aw, Cindy, you're corrupting me) that argues for a culture's right to self-determine how crappy they're going to treat women.

Do I think we Westerners have it absolutely right? That we have the Best way and therefore everyone should be forced to adopt it?

No I don't.

But I also think it's ridiculous to assume that there's some way that we can all live in little self-contained enclaves and have no effect on each other. How could that possibly work?

7/08/2005 08:50:00 AM  
Blogger Taketoshi said...

I don't think that everyone needs to live in self-enclosed enclaves, and I would never argue for that: I apologize if it came off that way. What we CAN do is try to minimize the intrusiveness of our cultures into others if they express a desire for us not to be there. Throughout history, what have been the two main reasons for large amounts of cultural mixing? War and Commerce. If the historical model of cultural integration is what we're going by, I think we really need to find a new one to work with. One where our freedom to push our fingers into other people's business is counterbalanced by their own freedom to tell us to get the fuck away from them. Simplistic, yes. Practical, probably not. But I do think this is an ethos that should be a little more prevalent in a society touting democratic values, chief amongst which is, to me, as you've pointed out, the right to self-determination.

Also, like I said, the rights of women are a question that does need to be dealt with. I think that it's important to remember, as good feminists, that many women in many (obviously not all) Muslim nations are quite happy with where they are. Hell, I was friends with a large number of them in college who had the full exposure to american life, walked around in tank tops and shorts, enjoying the particular sorts of freedoms they had available to them, and then eagerly awaited the time when they'd go back home--not because they wanted to change their world but because they liked the life that was waiting for them when they returned. Granted, these are obviously women with a bit of money if they're going to an expensive american school. It does seem to point to a more appropriate solution to the problem, though: if we view the treatment of women as an issue in these countries that we absolutely can't stand by for, a more palatable solution might just be to make it easier for people to come here, see our particular brand of sexual freedom in action, and make decisions about how they want to see their own society changing.

I think I must be too much of an old-school anarchist, though I come off as a commie most of the time. For me, my rights clearly end where they encounter another person, and that includes me finding it impossible to think that I can fix other people's problems for them.'

aargh, too much serious discussion.

awesome but long funny movie for a change of pace

7/08/2005 09:18:00 AM  
Blogger Sam Holloway said...

Howdy, Aunt B. and Taketoshi.

It appears, Aunt B., that we have a misunderstanding. I guess I must have written my thoughts down wrong, because I apparently gave the impression that I was casting my 'answers' to your questions as issues of "tit for tat" or people "getting what they deserve." Nothing could be further from the truth.

Consider this analogous question: Does the child who steps into the street without looking deserve to get killed by a speeding truck?

I would say no, but that isn't the point of admonishing children to look both ways before crossing. The point is that actions have consequences, so actions should (whenever possible) be considered carefully beforehand.

My point in mentioning the historical elements of Persepolis, and in referring to the anti-Soviet jihad blowback, isn't that the people who burned up in or jumped to their deaths from the Twin Towers 'deserved' to die for having some labyrinthine connection to the aforementioned events. Hell, many of the 9/11 victims weren't even US citizens. My point, if I had one, isn't that specific.

I guess-- and this is going to sound really cheesy-- I'm saying that nothing occurs in a vacuum, and we who claim to live in a democratic society really ought to pay attention to what our government is doing overseas (and why). Doing so in good conscience won't necessarily prevent homicidal lunatics from trying to blow up large numbers of strangers in our midst, but helping to dry up the well of anger would be a start.

I'm not suggesting that US foreign policy is the cause of all the murderous anger that is directed our way. However, my Christian upbringing teaches me that I must first ask my angered brother what I've done to make him angry enough to strike at me, then seek forgiveness, before I unleash Shock and Awe upon him and his collateral neighbors. It might sound to some like a candy-ass way of doing business, but I think it is a risk worth taking (at least as long as I'm sitting atop the world's biggest pile of cash and being protected by the world's most powerful military).

If I have taken up too much of your space with my nonsense, or have been otherwise insolent, then I am prepared to receive my spanking (rhetorically, of course).

7/08/2005 06:05:00 PM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

Shit, Church Secretary, look around. Everyone is welcome here if they have smart things to say, don't take things too personally, and take up as much space as they need to make their point.

If people don't want to read it, they can use their scroll bar.

Anyway, all that is to say that I'm really glad you found your way here and I hope you pop in as often as you like. It's fun to have smart, thoughtful folks comment on the things that interest them.

7/09/2005 07:49:00 AM  
Blogger Steve Pick said...

I take back what I said in my blog about who I would invite to a time machine dinner. Fuck the people of the past. I want Church Secretary, Aunt B, and Taketoshi. You guys can converse!

The one little thing I'd like to add to this whole discussion is the fact that there is no one over-riding Muslim community, even in the Middle East. That religion, just like Christianity, is riddled with factions. I forget the name of the faction in which Al Quaeda resides - though I know Al Quaeda is a faction within that faction - but they believe that the best thing for the Muslims would be to reunite all who praise Allah under one giant Caliphate just like in the glory days of a thousand years ago.

So, how do they do that? Well, one thing they have to do is kick out the secular governments in Egypt and other states and replace them with their own faction leaders. So far, they have had no success at doing this, partly because the U.S. and other Western countries won't let them.

Plan B is to try taking out the West directly. They know they can't actually kill everybody over here, or even defeat the West, but they can disrupt it enough to maybe make some changes. And, meanwhile, symbolically, they feel they're doing something to lead towards their ultimate goal of a perfect future.

It's just a crazy bunch of utopians, and utopians always have trouble understanding that human beings can't live the way they are expected to live.

7/09/2005 01:10:00 PM  

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