“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Sunday, December 21, 2003


It’s rare to find every ideological position LI is allergic to on display in one article, but the NYT Magazine’s John Tierney comes close. The utopian conservative dream of an Iraq that is democratic (but without elections), that is prosperous (without a social net, and with a seventy percent unemployment rate), and that is, above all, privatized to the gills – this is what the Douglas Feiths and Paul Wolfowitzes of the world have been working towards.

The heroic unit in the piece is a business family led by Nader and Wathiq Hindo who have come back from exile in the States to make potloads in Iraq. That you can make potloads always seems to astonish American journalists, but it would be a familiar situation to anyone who lived through the liberalization of the economy in any Latin American country. While most of the country, which wipes the baby’s ass, mends the roads, serves the chickpeas, and so on, struggles under the twin burdens of unemployment and inflation, the segment of the country in whom Americans find their own lifestyle mirrored suddenly can afford vacations and digital toys, as the money floods in, either from immense foreign loans or from the sales of public properties -- sales that always go awry. In this case, it is a much juicier cash stream, direct from our government. Nothing is as sweet as 165 billion of Federal money. And so the Hindo family has attached itself, diverting a little stream to its own businesses. Voila, wealth.

Discovering these mirror Americans, the journalist typically emits tears of joy in the Washington Post, or NYT – and five years later there is a running series of backstories about collapsing governments and World Bank loans.
The crucial grafs are on the fifth page of the piece. Tierney quotes an obvious favorite, Zakaria, who has been a staunch defender of holding elections in places like Iraq in the year 2121, or some such time, after the healthful wash of free enterprise ideology has rooted out the dissatisfied and given everyone a cell phone for Christmas. Here, we think, is the heart of the American case, and the American dilemma:

''Iraq's civil society is so weak and decimated that there's a great danger of a new state abusing its power,'' says Larry Diamond, a political scientist at the Hoover Institution and co-editor of the journal Democracy. He, Zakaria and other experts say it would be better to wait at least two or three years, or ideally as long as five, before holding national elections. Such a delay is probably impractical, but it would suit at least one bourgeois family in Baghdad.

During a rare moment off from their many enterprises, Nader and his parents sit around the conference table at their office debating when Iraq should hold national elections.

''Maybe in a couple of years,'' Nader says. ''We need Iraqi administrators to guarantee stability and contracts and property rights, but until we develop parties that are based on ideas instead of religion or ethnicity, we should hold off on elections.''

''Five years,'' his father says. ''That's enough time for a new generation to go through college.''

''Never,'' Nader's mother says, and it's hard at first to tell if she's kidding.

''Well, someday,'' Nidhal says, ''but I can't imagine when. People here have been through so much turmoil they're just not ready to vote.''

The “Never” obviously startles Tierney. The mirror Americans seem so … American. The maids, the rubber plants, the SUVs, the English, the jokes, the M.B.A.s, it all seems so refreshingly familiar and then… and then they emit some opinion that sounds like something some German businessman in 1938 would say about needing a strong hand to crack down on the Bolsheviks and Jews. There’s that small, telling crack in the mirror.

But isn't that why the Tierneys are there? The whole goal of mainstream American journalism is to make sure we don’t see the cracks in the mirror, even if the journalist can't quite hide it, that eerie sensation that the cracks make on him or her. And so, what better reference with which to finish off this post than Freud, god bless him, who explained the dialectically necessary return of the repressed in one of his great essays, Die Unheimliche. Read it -- in English, children, in English -- here.

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