I wear one of David Makinson’s descriptions of me with pride: “John’s philosophy… is deeply and darkly hopeless.” (Never give up your disbelief, webdiaryDec10).
I’m very glad he said this, because it makes the difference in our views clearer.
I’ll elaborate on David’s description. Against the backdrop of absolute blackness, the delusions and self-deceiving hopes in which one seeks sanctuary stand out starkly in relief.
I salute the brave people who have diagnosed their self-deceptions, who strive to live in full knowledge of the absurdity of their lives, and strive to feel what it is like to be human without mitigating faiths that soften life’s blows and dilute and falsify the experience of living.
Diluting the experience is a form of death. Such clouds of comfort kill human life – also in the conventional sense, when instantiated in political theories or imperatives for action. Or, in David’s case, in imperatives for obfuscation.
I pity those that have seen the darkness and have taken fright, and have committed intellectual suicide by taking up the debilitating crutches of religious-like faith.
There are also those that have this faith but cannot recognize it in themselves, no matter how much you reflect it back at them. “Unselfrecognizeable” is an invented word I saw somewhere. It’s a real phenomenon, though, because others see it clearly. But these just deny any attempt to “catch” their “philosophy” with concepts, even glancingly, with grains of truth touching possibly widely separated truths. They use phrases like: “You said that, not me”. Maybe it’s just a coincidence.
I have contempt for those that preach disbelief, yet when you scratch the surface of their arguments, the marks of intellectual suicide are ubiquitous – and they refuse to admit that they are the pied pipers of a faith. They are two-faced, and incorrigible liars.
David says about me that “He offers no light, yet castigates those who would try to find the switch”.
But I offer the light of honesty and intellectual integrity, at least insofar as my efforts at striving for these succeed.
Delusions flee the searing light of an honest intellect, leaving only the possibilities – if there are any. These constitute the only hope we deserve to have.
I “castigate” those that chase hallucinations while claiming to be serious. They make pronouncements that give susceptible people false hope, thus preventing these people from comprehending their condition, from experiencing what it is to be human, from living.
The pied pipers are tricksters and con artists and deserve to be exposed.
David understands well the non-existence of his professed position: “I am doubtless kidding myself, but I earnestly hope that in my own very small way I am promoting [the avoidance of war on Iraq and the prevalence of ‘reason’].”
He continues: “Some might say this is a complete waste of time, but it is born of hope, not despair, and I will keep trying.”
But as I demonstrate below, that which “is born of hope” – the sort of anti-real “hope” David subscribes to – is not what he thinks it is.
That’s because the warm feeling he names “hope” is really a space where the searing intellect is not allowed in, lest one comes too close to “despair”. So it is just a sanctuary for unexamined choices, a breeding ground for self-deception and delusions.
The politically conscious project these outward into the world, where they appear as bogus citations, or misguided debunking of invented positions, or other null-content arguments that amount to nothing more than wishful thinking.
The facade of disbelief is applied unevenly – statements that do not conform to the desired, comfortable goal are disbelieved more avidly than the ones that do. That’s why bogus citations are immediately treated credulously, while obvious propaganda from “the enemy” is paraded – in something akin to a show-trial – as conformation of one’s position.
It’s really just wishful thinking, retreating into a comfort zone and refusing to consider the self-delusions it is based on.
But anti-real hope is not beautiful, unless you feel it is beautiful to be forgetful of history – or, equivalently, of the face of a person close to you.
Forgetfulness – irrespective of who you are – ought to be diagnosed as an affliction that one strives to overcome, however difficult or hopeless it may seem. The stuff of reality – particular, base facts, the “ground-level details” as I say – is absolutely essential, just as is the other side. Too many dictators have used anti-remembrance as a tool of power. Forgetfulness must be resisted.
Moreover, I mention in passing, David’s clinging to a non-existent position – his (positive) assertion of it, of something that can be born into the world only as a deception or not at all – gives rise to a bifurcation in the meaning he conveys: he becomes two-faced, or, as the Germans say (I love this word), januskoepfig.
He makes claims as if he himself is exempt from them – as if he is outside the world and can therefore say anything about it with impunity, clearly because he thinks he is powerless (disempowered) yet wishes that a difference could be made, if only the switch could be found. The hope-that-cannot-be-realized – that dictates one keeps trying to find the switch despite knowing that one is “doubtless kidding themselves” – makes him think so.
David’s piece amounts to a farrago of negativity, with an unspoken faith dominating all and sundry. Disbelief is just a facade that gives the faith a seductive veneer. Beware the religious ambush that comes later.
An example was furnished on October 15, in Searching for hope, in response to the Bali bombing, David wrote: “It surprises no-one I suppose, but it still defies belief, that commentators from across the political spectrum are using (yes, ‘using’) the Bali atrocity to score points off their rival pontificators. It is deeply sickening…”
He then draws the reader in with his lamentation that “politicians and commentators of all persuasions will seek to portray their particular cause as noble because we have lost our friends”.
Then comes the ambush – he finds a meaning in the Bali bombing: it resonates with the faith that he holds deeply, which is why he felt compelled to write it down. It was a “tragic symbol of an abject failure of leadership. Politicians failed to protect them. The experts of right and left have had no effect. We must not reward them by jumping on any of their various bandwagons.”
But he promotes his own bandwagon – of the internationale of “innocents” that he imagines share his abhorrence for what he imagines to be the only type of solution world leaders ever come up with; namely, Manaechian visions:
“Wrong, George. We’re against both of you. We wonder if perhaps you deserve each other, but we’re certain we have done nothing at all to deserve you. We, the cannon fodder, oppose you. We are the innocent people of Australia, the US, Palestine, Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, the world, and we are opposed to you.”
Good. Evil. Left. Right. Left. Right. Left. Right. David’s Webdiary pieces on Iraq are testimony to an obsession for denying Manaechian visions that he imagines others hold.
On the one hand, he denies opposites even when they are clearly there. On the other, he invents a division into opposites when there is none.
The entire Tolkienesque parable is a Manichaean caricature that is utterly irrelevant to my argument in Saddam Hussein and the Heart of Darkness, as my view is not a manichaeistic division of the world into Good and Evil.
David appears to be obsessed with manichaeistic divisions – he imposes them on his descriptions of the world, then laments how wrongheaded they are. It amounts to just wishful thinking, retreating into a comfort zone and refusing to consider the self-delusions it is based on.
The world approximated by ever more densely packed “yes/no” computer circuits. This is his concept of “complexity”. Concepts that transcend the details are treated with disbelief, and dismissed.
The Tolkienesque parable sets the scene for the rest of the piece, in which the innocent refugees from the alleged Good/Evil dichotomy – number one among them being David Makinson himself – seek sanctuary by exposing the flimsiness of the dichotomy they (according to David) think they have fled.
This is the point of the silly “debunking” of something Donald Rumsfeld said – as if this opinion of Rumsfeld’s is pivotal for the justification of stopping Saddam Hussein.
David is simply lying to himself. There is no such dichotomy – despite what the Bush muppet says. I have already explained (in Saddam Hussein and the Heart of Darkness) why David should not believe some of what Bush says – and also why some of it is right.
But Makinson has ignored my entire argument, every point of it, and instead sets up straw men that he knocks down with childish delight.
He has ignored every point I have made in three or four long pieces. Many of the basic ground-level details I have cited should be informing his work. Or he should explain why he feels justified in ignoring them. What’s the point of continuing?
Despite my attempt to get him to raise his standards by doing some basic groundwork before he makes claims in public, and backing up his argument, he continues to make claims that look pretty on the outside but are just totally wrong once you scratch the surface.
He makes a facile argument for why al-Qaeda “is” an enemy of the Iraqi regime, by exaggerating the dichotomy between the fundamentalists and the secular Ba’ath party. (Again, he imagines a dichotomy.) But he ignores the reality of the region, how Arab secular nationalism rose in prominence following the fall of the Caliphate in 1924, and gradually morphed into fundamentalism following the humiliation of the Six Day War in 1967.
In “The Challenge of Fundamentalism”, University of Gottingen professor Bassam Tibi (a Syrian Muslim) writes, “the continuity of the Islamic world view, persisting even in the midst of social change, has facilitated the recent shift from secular ideologies to those of political Islam and to the worldview it reflects… one cannot escape the fact that secular ideologies were never able to put down strong cultural roots in Islam, or to affect the prevailing worldview. Thus, secularization as a separation of religion and politics has remained a surface function” (p. 147).
In the chapter on “World Order and the Legacy of Saddam Hussein”, Tibi writes: “When Saddam Hussein invoked Islamic principles as a legitimization of his invasion of Kuwait, he was clearly exploiting a pretext. Nevertheless, it is the symbolic meaning… that matters. [He made reference to] the historical fact that the existing boundaries were drawn up by Western colonial powers and therefore, in the World of Islam, lack all cultural legitimacy…
“In the West today, the Gulf War is no more than a pale memory. The undeniable inheritance of that war is… the ‘legacy of Saddam Hussein’ [whose religious references] ‘served to mobilize Islamist sentiment in a range of countries in support of [himself and fueled an Islamic revival].’ ‘The Gulf War…was a struggle over values; or more precisely, part of an ongoing struggle over who will define the direction and limits of appropriate political behaviour in the modern world.’
“…one should not be too quick to ridicule those fundamentalists… who called for installing Saddam Hussein as the new Caliph for all of Islam. … When Saddam reminded the Arabs and Muslims of their past glory, while indicting the West for ‘having entered Arab lands,… divided Arabs and established weak states’ to facilitate the imposition of Western supremacy, he not only evoked sentiments of nostalgia but also expressed a widely felt outrage over the subordination of Muslims to Western dominance…
“In recalling the days of Muslim supremacy, ‘when Baghdad was the centre of Islamic rule and civilization,’ Saddam Hussein raised at least a rhetorical claim to establishing Muslim power anew.” (p. 39-41)
David may also wish to contemplate the significance (in a balanced way) of the following: the fact that pan-Arab nationalism and Nazism have specific German romantic ideological roots in common (the fascist, Fichte); the fact that the fundamentalist, so-called Grand Mufti of Jerusalem (Yasser Arafat’s uncle) was a Nazi collaborator who met Hitler – even though Hitler hated Arabs, he was quite prepared to have them as allies – and was responsible for organizing a number of Muslim SS divisions in Bosnia as well as for the redirection of 300,000 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz; that Iraq was briefly allied with the Axis powers in 1941; that a symbol currently commonly seen in Arab countries is the black eagle with straight, powerful wings last seen in Nazi Germany (see my photograph at the Bethlehem police station); and that the Hezbollah have been seen to greet each other with a Hitlergruss.
Also: the neo-Nazi sympathizer, Jorg Haider, and Russia’s ultra-right-wing nationalist, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, visited Baghdad together two months ago, not for the first time. (A photo in the corresponding Austrian magazine, Format, shows the two coming out of a lift, with George Bush Snr.’s face staring up from the tiled floor at the soles of Haider’s shoes.) Moreover, over the last five decades, there have been proven, concrete connections between neo-Nazi financial brokers, as well as groups, and Arab groups. This has led to suspicions in some quarters that neo-Nazi extremists are helping finance al-Qaeda in Europe.
What sort of spiritual resonances make for such strange bedfellows?
I caution against jumping to sinister conclusions – but what should be jettisoned is the illusion that Islamist fundamentalism and Arab secular nationalism form an unbridgeable dichotomy, and that in many cases, they cannot been drawn closer by, at least, a common insane desire to annihilate Israel.
I do not care for David Makinson’s fatuous pleas for absolution from the duty to get himself informed about what he is claiming in public: “I struggle for expression, unlike so many of the talented people who contribute to this place. I lack their education, their wit and, occasionally, their knowledge, as some of them delight in pointing out. It is like pulling teeth for me. And despite my very best efforts, I find I am consistently misinterpreted.”
Many share David’s predicament that, until recently, they had been “completely asleep when it comes to matters of international politics. To our consternation, we now find ourselves at something of a loss as the world and times we live in start to slap us in the face on an almost daily basis.”
But while David, a university professor, uses his frailties and inadequacies to gain sympathy from the reader – and underhandedly to gain rhetorical advantage – some have gone out and got themselves an education: via Bassam Tibi, Bat Ye’or, Abdallah Laroui, Muhammad al-Mubarak, Sadiq Jalal al-Azm, Fouad Ajami, Ibn Warraq, Ali Sina, Hashem Aghajari, or even Khaled Abou El Fadl. And all the other Islamic dissidents.
Knowledge – and a desire to share it – makes one lucid.
But knowing where to seek out knowledge – how to undertake the journey of understanding – is a function of one’s world view, or “philosophy”.
David Makinson has a habit of seeking the rhetorical authority of famous people by blindly citing them when they seem to be supporting what he wants them to support. He does this without putting in the hard work of checking the sources, or actually thinking about the words he cites.
He persists in doing this even after my criticism (Saddam Hussein’s Desire for Genocide) of his piece, Fools and fanatics, where I warned him that he was making himself look foolish.
In Fools and fanatics, David quoted Bertrand Russell and Mahatma Ghandi.
Bertrand Russell, according to David, said: “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.”
I pointed out that Russell plainly did not mean that “what makes some people wiser than others is that they always retain doubt about what they believe,” since otherwise he could not have stated his aphorism with the certitude that he had.
Why did David Makinson place so much faith in an aphorism that is manifestly empty of meaning?
Indeed, Bertrand Russell’s life and philosophy are notorious for their serial hopeful certitude: serial dreams of “this is the meaning of life” – where doubt evaporated – that consoled him until each dream was extinguished in turn by irrepressible reality.
I would recast Russell’s aphorism as follows: “Unscrutinized convictions manifest the tragedy of an individual’s life.”
Bertrand Russell’s quote is a poor one, but David swallowed it hook, line and sinker – because of the authority of the surface.
Makinson regurgitates Mohandas:
John – you may wish to ponder this – from a man whose morality, unlike yours or mine, is not in question: “What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?
(a) David is wrong. We stand up to Saddam Hussein to avoid a Holocaust. This is not a “cause” – or ideology – like Democracy or Communism or Marcusean Peacenikism. We need not align our spirit in any particular direction, nor regiment it to fit an overcoat. We just deal with the reality, and banish self-deception.
(b) What to make of Gandhi’s quote? Of course, the cause makes no difference to the dead. The dead have no rights, no needs, no wants. But it makes a difference to the living.
Moral choices are about the living, not the dead.
Mahatma Gandhi’s observation about the dead was facile. But he also mentions “the orphans and the homeless”.
Now, a pivotal question: what was the difference between the Axis forces and Allies in World War Two?
Here’s part of the answer: if the Nazis had won the war, and if Gandhi’s orphans and homeless had been Jews, they would have all been murdered, and not one Jew would have been left on this planet.
And if Gandhi had been a Jew he would not have had the chance to forsake his career as a lawyer and be wise.
But when the Allies won the war, not only did they NOT wreak genocide on Germans, they spent billions reconstructing Germany. And Germany is now an important member of the international community.
Today, the American president is even talking about “political and economic liberty triumphing in the Middle East”, following US-led rebuilding of the country.
Are nuclear weapons acceptable in the hands of Saddam Hussein, who preaches and practices explicit, racist pan-Arab supremacism; has an indominatable will to acquire weapons of mass destruction; and repeatedly vows “revenge” against Israel and the United States? Vows that he will perpetrate a Holocaust?
If not, how do you propose to take them away from him, or stop him from obtaining them within the next 18 months, given that he plays to win?
The “purity of the soul” that the Mahatma preached is useless if there are no people left.
Why do you disbelieve Saddam Hussein, but believe Bush’s more idiotic, Manaechian pronouncements?
Why do you disbelieve Saddam Hussein, while disbelieving the eye-witnesses, the scientists, all the defectors that argue for the same result as Bush but in different words and mannerisms?
The facade of disbelief is just that – unless it is accompanied by intelligent analysis. But then, “disbelief” is part and parcel of the process, as the best historians have known for centuries.
David’s plea for disbelief simply removes the “intelligent analysis” element from a centuries-old formula. Again, what it amounts to is a plea for the authority of surfaces. David’s plea is a sham.
David applies disbelief according to the circumstance: actually, he is merely reinforcing prejudices that he already had.
There are other grave contradictions in Mahatma Gandhi’s views. For example, before World War Two, Gandhi opposed the establishment of Israel in Palestine, on the grounds that it would displace the “rightful inhabitants” of the land.
However, these “rightful inhabitants” used force to win the land several hundred years before. Gandhi’s position amounted to justification for the use of force to gain territory.
Gandhi’s entire way of thinking was centred on the here and now – with him at the centre, and concentric circles in time and space stretching outward ever further from his perception.
Gandhi advocated non-violent submission to the Nazis. He never comprehended Hitler’s genocide of the Jews. His flaw was that he projected what he knew about the colonialist British onto Hitler and the Nazis. He could not see past himself.
He could not “secularize” his thinking by initiating a “French revolution” in his mind.
In Saddam’s Desire for Genocide, I explained how David Makinson’s way of thinking is centred on himself like this too – Iraq never attacked “us”, so we have no quarrel with Iraq. So genocide cannot be any of our business.
Despite the warning, when choosing his quotes, David has persisted in blindly choosing authoritative surface over substance.
Catherine M. Harding has already dealt with the bogus Julius Caesar quotation. “Rights of the citizenry”? Just a hint of anachronism. The history website Catherine suggests explains the urban legend nicely.
The Albert Einstein quote is another major clanger. I actually thought that David was joking when I read it, but I then realized that he was being serious – David saw the surface and liked it, and never asked any more questions.
I have tried to do David’s groundwork for him, in seeking the precise date and background details of the quote; but no Internet site bothers with such things.
Nevertheless, I’m prepared to believe Einstein said it, since he was, indeed, a “pacifist”. However, the citation was almost certainly made by Einstein before World War Two; ie while he was living in Europe.
He was reacting to the sight of Nazis marching up and down the streets in Germany.
Despite his pacifist tendencies – and Gandhi’s advice for Jews to grin and bear it – Einstein soon found the threat of Nazism unbearable, and emigrated to the United States.
His first-hand experience of Nazism evidently jolted some sense into him: unlike Gandhi, he comprehended the threat that totalitarianism posed.
This is why in August 1939, one month before the start of World War Two, Einstein wrote a letter to President Roosevelt urging him to build an atomic bomb as soon as possible, because the Nazis were already onto the idea, and if the Nazis got one first, it would be disastrous.
The parallel with Saddam Hussein is strong.
Unlike Makinson, Einstein comprehended the reality.
David Makinson desperately wanted a surface of authority, but in stealing one, he neglects to take into account the most important decisions of Einstein’s life, and how they affected his thinking. Einstein’s letter is viewable at anl .
The Hitler and Goering citations are probably correctly quoted, but they are irrelevant. Even Makinson agrees that war can sometimes be necessary.
He has explicitly stated that he would consider Saddam Hussein an enemy under certain circumstances; however, this set of circumstances is so narrow – the transgressions so absolutely verifiable – that – as I argued in Saddam Hussein’s Heart of Darkness – Saddam Hussein would have to make an extremely stupid mistake to be caught. (Or he would have to be allowed to fulfil his manifest ambition, which would be catastrophic.)
As I explained in “Heart of Darkness” with regards to the fallacy in David Ritter’s thinking (he is a former UNSCOM employee), Makinson’s empiricist criterion gives an opportunity for ambitious and tenacious liars to deceive the world community on weapons of mass destruction by erecting plausible facades.
The most important argument I want to make in this Webdiary piece is that David’s sort of anti-real “hope” entails corruption (intellectual and moral) because of its obsession with surfaces, leading to either history being deliberately falsified, or to history simply being forgotten through negligence. After that, proper judgements can’t be made.
Virtually every one of David’s points are lacking in some way, because he has focussed on the surface, rather than using his brain to make the assertions solid. I just haven’t got the time now to go through them all one by one – although I could, if anybody requests it.
I stress that in David’s thoughts, I see a clear outline of a faith that erases the details of reality. It is a barrier that prevents him from comprehending the basic details of reality, as well as from expressing himself in an unambiguous way.
On October 2 in Loving Hitler, I wrote that “Despite the word [“naive”] being mostly used these days as a term of abuse, there’s nothing wrong with being naive – not having knowledge of some situation or milieu – if there’s no reason for you to have that knowledge. But naivety – especially willed naivety – is certainly blameworthy if one ought to know better.”
There comes a time when “we have a duty to inform ourselves”. Moreover, we formulate our view according to standards that we have somehow kept in our mind during the long slumber. These are intuitions that are left over from our previous journeys of understanding after we forgot the details. The intuitions are an echo of many trial and error processes, of facts learned, worldviews formed, then lost, because human memory is fallible.
Some of these standards, pertaining to checking sources, and forming an opinion as to the reliability of sources, were pointed out by Catherine M. Harding ( webdiaryDec13).
It’s quite possible that some tendency in one’s way of thinking prevents these standards from gelling adequately. The tendency might be a willed philosophy, or it might just be the way one’s brain is “wired” – one has never even realized that this tendency exists within oneself, so it can’t be changed. One has unconsciously developed it into a way of thinking – an unexamined one.
In any case, such journeys of understanding are undertaken more or less often. It’s like Sisyphus condemned to roll a boulder up a hill and come back down repeatedly, forever. While sitting in solitude at the top of the mountain, wistfully surveying the landscape below, he contemplates how some part of the landscape used to be familiar to him, but he hadn’t been there for years, and now only the outlines are familiar. But he knows how to get there once he returns to the bottom of the hill, and how to refamiliarize himself with it if he had to.
Compare that to somebody who never knew the landscape – or doesn’t even know what a landscape is. Sitting at the top of the mountain after undertaking the upward journey, he sees just clouds, unaware of any details below, unaware of how to go about surveying the territory at ground level even if his life depended on it.
In an essay on Russian film director, Valery Ogorodnikov, which seems to be apt here, I wrote the following:
“In Prishvin’s world, in contrast, a break with the past has occurred, since Stalin is no longer there. The villains – such as Stalin – are not a burden any more, for they have been forgiven and their real deeds, in order to heal the malformed soul, concealed behind a mask of jokes, and forgotten.
For if one already knows that one will avoid influences that deform the soul, one ought to forgive the villains immediately – and resolve to avoid unpleasant facts as soon as they come into the field of vision – thereby remaining undisturbed in the cloud of ignorant bliss. The landscape below is not a carpet woven from the stuff of history, whose details one could investigate if one really had to, but consists of a cloud, behind which the details of history have already been erased.
As true enemies do not exist anymore, one may safely let the “innocent” lambs, with wills as relentless as they are incorrigibly unable to recognize themselves, do whatever they please.
… As there are no true enemies anymore, the rebellious tendencies within are fundamentally senseless and futile; but, more importantly, they can only remain futile, because the act of rebellion cannot trigger a growth in knowledge: the nature of the problem cannot be recognised, all solutions have the same appearance, and all views over the landscape are featureless – the view, too, that might contain a way out – because the stuff of history, and its normative influence (which guides the intuition when words are lacking), have been erased.
Inexpressible and unknowable, these rebellious tendencies can only then remain instances of “personal problems” (as Andrei Tarkovsky once said); they must therefore only be short-term, if they exist at all, or they metamorphose forever into nefarious creatures with a variety of faces, who never find a way out of their predicament. These creatures of the imagination are slaves of ignorance, they can only believe the surfaces of all the things that are presented to them. Albert Camus would have been able to rebel neither against Russian nihilism, nor the nihilism of Nietzsche, if he had not had a deep feeling for history.