Global Pathology (Again)
We often think of human behavior as events with boundaries. Indeed, contemporary online choices mostly seem to be binary; either/or, black/ white, on/ off, yes /no, for/against, or the now ubiquitous “like/dislike.” The binary meme is reinforced by a culture of absolutes, a world where arbitrary if not smug critics construct lists which presume to tell us about the “best” and “worst” of the animate and inanimate alike.
The prominence of engineered opinion on the internet says volumes about dot.com culture, a space where selecting from a list is easier than doing or thinking for yourself. In many respects, the internet is a closed loop, a humid electronic womb with: membership, special jargon, passwords, and emoticons. The bait for social networks is belonging, a childlike desire to be “liked” or accepted.
The dot.com social kindergarten, however, has two facets. Twitter and Facebook and other forums have become propaganda and recruiting venues for Islamists and terror. Pardon any redundancy.
The very term “social” network is now an oxymoron. The internet is a kind of global village populated by the needy, the greedy, and the seedy -- and those looking for an infidel or an apostate to kill.
Best and worst are the most pernicious adjectives because the ‘best,’ and related assertions of optimism, is the default setting for all manipulative politics. And the “worst,” or absolute pessimism, may not exist at all -- or at least the worst seems to be beyond knowing. Indeed, Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89) may have captured the thought a hundred years ago midst the Industrial Revolution.
No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.
Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?
Surely, the worst individual, national, or cultural behavior seems to have been removed from the jurisdiction of moral judgment. A spoiled child or an irresponsible adult might be diagnosed, and excused, as victims of some illusive deficit disorders or social ailments like alcoholism or addiction. Giving a drunk, junkie, or criminal a place on the sick list is of a piece with medicating annoying children -- or classifying felons as victims.
With individual behavior, notions of discipline, restraint, choice or free will have been disabled by organic, dare we say “scientific,” determinism. Unfortunately, the diagnosis of psychological or social disorder is left to the speculations of crypto-sciences like psychoanalysis and sociology. Errors in these realms are then often compounded, collectively, by other academic fancies like political “science.” The study of politics is rigorous science in the same sense that graffiti is great art.
The general absolution of young and adult is not without cultural consequence. Indeed, wishful thinking seems to be the default setting of all modern politics. Surely, optimism has a place in all eras. Still, history (Hegel and Fukuyama not withstanding) is a palindrome of sorts, a process that runs two ways; both backwards and forward.
Time is not linear. Time is not a one-way street either, nor is time the metronome of progress. Recidivism, not progress or enlightenment, is the true default setting for most cultures.
Contemporary Muslim societies might take a bow here. Were rot not the default setting for political systems, we might all be speaking Greek, Hebrew, or Latin today. History is as much about decay as “progress.”
We need only consider the advent of Islam in the 7th Century to appreciate the recidivist phenomenon writ large. Those who cannot appreciate the power of apathy, stasis, or religious fascism are the most likely to drowned when the tides of time runs backwards.
Collective reluctance to confront national, if not global, pathology might be described as cultural autism -- a kind of infantile defense mechanism. Apathy is loudest voice when culture starts to hemorrhage the values that made success possible in the first place.
Two contemporary examples provide illustrations; the resurrection of the Cold War in Europe and the resuscitation of the global Islamic caliphate. The “End of History” and the “Arab Spring,” in the space of a few years, have morphed into a whiff of nuclear firestorm in Europe and a new Islamic winter in the Ummah. The obvious vector of modern social and global politics is recidivism.
Backwards is the new forward -- again.
The new Cold War in Europe and the enduring hot wars in the Muslim world are kissing cousins; the former now a ready excuse to ignore the latter. Alas, the nuclear tinderbox in East Europe and charnel house in the Levant are both created problems.
Since 9/11, the global Islamist threat has been minimized, rationalized, or addressed with half-measures like rendition, criminal show trials, “humanitarian interventions,” small wars, or drone strikes. Friend and foe are flummoxed.
Throughout, Washington and Europe refuse to identify the threat, refuse to call the menace what it is: religious arrogance. Indeed, words like criminal, extremist, or terrorist are used to obscure the truth of Islamism -- a now toxic mix of political imperialism and religious fascism. The perennial civil war within Islam, Shia versus Sunni, and global terror, in combination, now threaten to suck civilization into the gates of hell.
Had they a strategic map, Joe Biden and Barack Obama might know that highway to recidivist hell runs through Tehran, Riyadh, Mosul, Medina, and Mecca.
The United Nations took two weeks to declare the Ebola virus as a global menace. The European Union took a few months to raise the Russian threat to DEFCON ridiculous. Yet, after 50 years of universal barbarity and depredations, Washington still can’t connect the dots between rot and religion corrupted.
There is nothing new about religious fascism or caliphates. There is nothing new about rape, infanticide, honor killings, genocide, misogyny, slavery -- or headless journalism either. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is the logical consequence of recidivism ignored, that rabid dog stalking the civilized world since the mid-20th Century -- or since 632 AD, depending on your attention span.
And now we are led to believe that the real strategic threat is Vladimir Putin. If we are to buy into Russophobia, and another round of nuclear chicken with Moscow, we must ignore more than a bit of modern history: the dismemberment of Yugoslavia, the provocative, some say unnecessary, expansion of NATO; Georgian incompetence and aggression; Victoria Nuland’s meddling in Kiev that underwrote a fratricidal civil war in Ukraine.
And last, surely not least, the humiliating loss of Edward Snowden. The US State Department yanked Snowden’s passport during a Moscow layover; thereby gifting Russia a very valuable involuntary Intelligence defector. Should Snowden feel obliged to repay Russian hospitality, the blowback bill needs to be hand carried to Foggy Bottom and the National Security Agency.
The opportunity costs of isolating Russia again could be catastrophic. Never mind cooperative Space exploration, energy, or European economies at risk. Russia is the one superpower with real leverage in Iran and Syria. Indeed Russia has been very helpful on nuclear and chemical issues in a part of the world where there is little reluctance to use either.
Other than Benjamin Netanyahu, Vladimir Putin also might be the one of few world leaders with the giblets to help eradicate ISIS -- and ultimately Islamism. Pushing Moscow into the deep freeze again is nothing short of geo-political, if not suicidal, stupidity.
Without Russia, the hair trigger is back: the nuclear threshold is lowered in Europe -- and the Levant is starting to read like biblical prophecy.
Gerard Manley Hopkins was correct. There is no worst. The Free World is led by nitwits with their heads in the sands of Arabia and their asses exposed to nuclear scorch in Europe.
The CIA Director, John Brennan, believes that the ISIS caliphate is a “feckless delusion.” And the President of the United States channels Rodney King, telling the world that he seeks solutions in the Ummah where there are “no victors and no vanquished.” Really?
If the First Family vacationed in Mosul instead of Martha’s Vineyard, Mr. Obama might develop a more adult worldview. The American vector is not better to worse, the tack is bad to worse; or as the poet put it: “More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring” There is no worst!
G Murphy Donovan writes about the politics of national security.