Sunday, December 11, 2005

Too Good to Pet the Dog

As mentioned previously, I began this blog quite by accident. At first, I only intended to leave a response to something I had read on Professor Juan Cole's blog "Informed Comment." Somehow, though, in the process of filling out on-line forms with required information, I discovered myself beginning my own blog as a prerequisite to commenting on someone else's. Fair enough.

Like many others, I enjoy reading Professor Cole's prolific insights into Middle Eastern affairs. Still, I differ with him in that he (at least for the present) wishes to see America remain militarily engaged in Iraq (or whatever fragments of it remain) - at least in some capacity - for the foreseeable future. As a victim/veteran of the Nixon-Kissinger Fig Leaf Contingent (Vietnam 1970-1972), however, I do not wish to see any more American soldiers die in President George W. Bush's new Buy Time Brigade, an unnecessary deployment of good American men and women designed merely to stall and procrastinate until those American political "leaders" who instigated and abetted the disaster can find a way to avoid the accountability - meaning a summary firing - that they all - Republicans and Democrats alike - so richly deserve. I lived through and served in a similar deployment thirty-five years ago and can testify to its utter futility. It saved no Vietnamese or American lives. It accomplished no worthwhile purpose. It didn't even save the careers of those - like Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Henry Kissinger - who perpetrated the policy in the vain hope that it might save their own political skins.

Professor Cole rightly criticizes the current American administration for its recklessness, mendacity, and ineptitude; yet he somehow seems inclined to support a continuance of a failed military policy that bears the indelible stain of these undeniable ignominities. I find this hard to understand logically, because you cannot do a wrong thing the "right" way. Still, as best I can understand, the good Professor fears that "something even worse" would happen if America terminated its reckless, mendacious, and inept military bungling in Iraq. None of us has visited the future, however, and so those who speak with authority about it cannot in truth do so. "Good" can happen as well as "bad." Nonetheless, the steadily worsening violence and fragmentation that Iraq has experienced due to America's blundering military intervention speaks louder than any American prophesies about its "good intentions." Whatever happens in Iraq's "life to come" will depend on what the people of the Middle East want. America has in any event disqualified itself from paticipating any further in Iraq's affairs. America has done enough damage there.

In light of Pofessor Cole's many expressed views on this subject, it seems only obvious that he feels some sympathy towards the Shiite Muslims of Iraq and Iran. Well and good, seeing as how his academic career has focused on their issues. Still, this understandable empathy has led the good professor - in my opinion - to comment frequently and appreciatively on the influential behind-the-scenes role of Mullah Ali Al-Sistani, a Shiite cleric whom Newsweek's Christopher Dickey has accurately called "an Iranian citizen who cannot even vote in Iraq's elections." That the Iranian Mullah Al-Sistani should have such a dominant role in Iraq's "democratic" electoral development hardly seems consonant with the bloody sacrifices made by American soldiers on his behalf. Mullah Al-Sistani, after all, considers the infidel Americans unclean and thus unworthy of admittance into his august presence, even though they first put down his young Shiite rival Muqtadr Al-Sadr and then went after his Sunni Muslim rivals, barbers, and women wearing blue jeans in public, et al. As a former American serviceman who once went to Southeast Asia on behalf of self-interested "democratic" despots like Ngo Dinh Diem and Nguyen Van Thieu (to mention only two of a nearly endless parade of corrupt colonial cronies), I harbor a special animosity towards those foreign "democrats" who want the American military dog to bite their enemies for them, but who certainly wouldn't want the Americans inside their houses. Unlike President George W. Bush and those who champion continuing his farcial interlude of anachronistic imperialism in Iraq, I wouldn't send a dog to die for someone like Mullah Al-Sistani who considers himself too good to pet the dog.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Managed Mystification

Long-time BBC commentator John Humphrys has done the cause of communication a distinct favor with his recently published Lost for Words: the mangling and manipulating of the English Language ( 2004). In this and in subsequent postings, I would like to extract a few of Mr. Humphry's most succinct observations and develop them into a critique of what I call "Managed Mystification," or the deliberately crafted destruction of intellectual meaning as a sales and/or propaganda technique: something quite the opposite of what most people think they mean by "communication." Modern, literate, liberal democratic society appears on the verge of coming unhinged because of this pernicious influence.

For example: in his chapter entitled "Who are they kidding," Huphreys puts his finger, so to speak, on the chief culprit: "the language of the marketing men. They, too, use language to manipulate, but it has nothing to do with argument. Words are used - if they are used at all - to conjure up moods, images, and subconscious associations in order to sell. The intention is not to persuade us through convincing argument, or even to appeal to our passions. It is to subvert our emotions so that we submit to the message, only half aware that we have done so. And it works - which is why the politicians have adopted some of the techniques." Managed Mystification. We don't know why we buy the products and services we do or why we vote for certain brand-name candidates; yet we vaguely feel a need to do so because of some pictures we have seen: blurred sequences of disconnected images accompanied by some strangely compelling background music and occasional word-like noises.

Humphrys has a gift for concisely summarizing important insights into our use and misuse of language and he provides just the kinds of contemporary examples that best illustrate what he wants to say. He provides no bibliography, yet students of semantics can easily detect in his witty and lively prose observations in many cases made previously throughout the past eighty years by authors such as C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards (the Meaning of Meaning: 1923), I. A. Richards (Practical Criticism: 1925), Alfred Korzybski (Science and Sanity: 1933), S . I. Hayakawa (Language in Thought and Action: 1941- 1990), and of course George Orwell in his novels (Animal Farm and 1984) and landmark essays, especially "Politics and the English Language" (1946). In the postings that follow, I will try to elaborate on these critical connections.

For now, though, I'll just conclude this little introduction with an observation that clearly identifies the issue of our time: namely, the struggle to defend ourselves, our language, our literature, and our cultural identity itself from the depradations of Managed Mystification. As John Humphreys puts the case:

"If we use words without a direct link to our own thought, what we end up with is mere words - just noise - rather than the communication of one mind with another."

Why this happened

I originally intended to post a comment on another person's blog but somehow I wound up filling in some on-line forms and creating a blog of my own. Now I suppose I will have to find out what to do next.