“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

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

the fun of the war

Continuing from my last post...

There is actually something else to say about Geras. Not so much to make a political point, but to make a psychological one.

Geras’ attitude, as you will remember, is that now, looking back, he can’t see that the war in Iraq he supported was supportable. On the other hand, looking back, he can’t see opposing the war, which he identifies with supporting the Ba’athist regime.

For a person active in politics, this is a rather appalling stand. After all, with or without his support, his state is engaging in a war that he thinks is wrong – or went wrong. So what kind of reason is it to not oppose that war because you identify opposition solely with supporting the Ba’athist regime?

However, stripping this idea of its political references for a second - this attitude is actually at the base of great English comedy. It is the moment when judgment – moral or aesthetic – shifts to the register of competition. To judge that a thing is bad is a philosophical task, but in the novel of real life, we more often judge that a person is bad. We more often think, that is, about how we don’t want to be or function like X, and create a negative figure out of that moment of negative choice. Those are the figures, in essence, that we compete with. And often, the badness of the figure becomes stronger than the reasons we hold an act or a function to be bad. Out of this comes snobbery and wounded dignity. The latter emerges from the moment in which we are squeezed between the figure that represents ‘how we don’t want to be’ and something that upsets our judgment about how we don’t want to be. I don’t want to be a liberal academic, or a poser, or a fan of country music, or a supporter of George Bush, etc., etc. translates into a satisfying comparison with liberal academics, posers, fans of country music, supporters of George Bush, etc. At least I am not X: This is the moral stance of the contemporary hero.

Sketching out this aspect of moral life, it points to a problem in the way sociologists mapping out our positive identifications as primary. That’s an idealistic stance. Dis-identification is just as important.

It might seem like the logical endpoint of “how we don’t want to be” is enmity. But the origin of the enemy is in combat, and there is always something mortal about enemies. You wish your enemies dead. Your enemies wish you dead. Whereas dis-identification is more about edging away from people, and the horror that it wishes to avoid most is: being surrounded by. Being surrounded by Republicans. Being surrounded by anti-war types. Being surrounded by lefties, righties, pinkos, rednecks, yahoos, jerkoffs, feminazis, dittoheads. Whatever. To be surrounded by cuts off the ability to edge away. Terrifyingly, to an outsider, one can be identified with the crowd of ‘how we don’t want to be.’

This is where English comic writers come in – where in French literature, the thousand meannesses of everyday life are treated as though they have a certain grandeur – think of Lisbeth’s revenge in Cousine Bette – since the French have a genius for enmity, in English writers, those meannesses are filtered through the comedy of wounded dignity or snobbery, since the English genius is for edging away. Dickens, of course, is the first writer who comes to mind. I have lately been reading one of E.F. Benson’s Mapp novels, about the town of Tilling, and here meanness, hypocrisy, invidious comparison and snobbery are very foundations of village life and the source of the thousand and one differences between a general mask of amiability and a sudden and brutal dislike lurking just below the surface, and most apt to emerge during a game of bridge. Tilling is a town of retirees, mostly, on limited incomes, but with high social standing. And of course it is picturesque, a tourist spot, and the perfect place to make the most of a limited income. Benson’s invention works by itself, in a way – everything follows the ridiculousness of Tilling. And Miss Mapp’s world is truly funny.

This is a typical Mapp moment:

“Miss Mapp set off with her basket to do her shopping. She carried in it the weekly books, which she would leave, with payment but not without argument, at the tradesmen's shops. There was an item for suet which she intended to resist to the last breath in her body, though her butcher would probably surrender long before that. There was an item for eggs at the dairy which she might have to pay, though it was a monstrous overcharge. She had made up her mind about the laundry, she intended to pay that bill with an icy countenance and say "Good morning for ever," or words to that effect, unless the proprietor instantly produced the--the article of clothing which had been lost in the wash (like King John's treasures), or refunded an ample sum for the replacing of it. All these quarrelsome errands were meat and drink to Miss Mapp: Tuesday morning, the day on which she paid and disputed her weekly bills, was as enjoyable as Sunday mornings when, sitting close under the pulpit, she noted the glaring inconsistencies and grammatical errors in the discourse. After the bills were paid and business was done, there was pleasure to follow, for there was a fitting-on at the dressmaker's, the fitting-on of a tea-gown, to be worn at winter-evening bridge-parties, which, unless Miss Mapp was sadly mistaken, would astound and agonize by its magnificence all who set eyes on it. She had found the description of it, as worn by Mrs. Titus W. Trout, in an American fashion paper; it was of what was described as kingfisher blue, and had lumps and wedges of lace round the edge of the skirt, and orange chiffon round the neck. As she set off with her basket full of tradesmen's books, she pictured to herself with watering mouth the fury, the jealousy, the madness of envy which it would raise in all properly-constituted breasts.”

Mapp, suitably folded, spindled and mutilated, is Geras.

The idea that, to put it bluntly, pouting is an honorable and moral political position, vis a vis a war, is very much a Tilling idea. It is consistent with the odd frivolity that hangs about some of the war’s biggest boosters. While celebrating loudly the struggle of good and evil, the battle of civilizations, and the liberation of Iraq, the details of said liberation have always been left entirely and a little blurrily to the discretion of the liberation caterers, while one noted “the glaring inconsistencies and grammatical errors” of the war’s opponents, Ba’athist supporters every one, which was of course the real fun of the thing.

PS – oh, I have to shoehorn this in here somehow. A fun fact to know and tell! This is from Murtha’s op ed piece in the WashPo, 10/13:
“Some of my Democratic colleagues questioned whether Iraq posed an immediate threat to our national security; some were not convinced that Iraq was accelerating the development of nuclear weapons and had an active chemical and biological weapons program; and almost all believed that Iraq was not involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. They turned out to be right on all three counts. Nevertheless, since our forces deployed to Iraq, Democratic support for the troops has never wavered.
In the past nine months alone, $962 billion has been appropriated for the Defense Department, $190 billion for the war effort. A vast majority of Democrats voted for the funding. Democrats also identified shortfalls in body armor, armored vehicles and electronic jammers to defeat roadside bombs. Democrats uncovered problems with the military readiness of our ground forces in the United States and fought for measures to restore it. That's hardly defeatist.”

Nine months=1 trillion dollars = total insanity. As in, we live in a country that spends a trillion dollars on war in 9 months. 9 months. A trillion dollars. On war. 9 months. War. A trillion dollars. Hmm, how can I gild this giant, comet sized, planet sized, astronomical, megalo-mutant piece of shit! Which, you should note, you Americans reading this, you eat every day! If you compared this amount of shit to all the shits excreted by all the Joint Chiefs of Staffs since George Washington’s day, the budget piece of shit is still 10 to the power of 10 feces higher than their shits. That is enough shit to reach to the nearest planet outside our solar system that whirls around the star, XXXBEINART1.

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