Saturday, August 19, 2006

war culture in the heraclitean framework

After it became apparent that the Israeli strategy of using air power to make Lebanon Hezbollah-rein had failed, a curious paen to air power appeared in the Washington Post, filed by their military analyst, William Arkin.

“If you've been reading my commentary on the Israel-Hezbollah war here, you know that I am a fan of airpower. To me, modern precision airpower is the epitome of discriminate warfare, which is to say, that it uniquely allows armed forces to discriminate between combatants and civilians. That is, short of two armies consenting to deploy to an unpopulated battlefield -- sort of like what Saddam Hussein did in 1990 after his invasion of Kuwait when he dug his army into the Kuwaiti and Iraqi desert.

I've heard the howls of protest -- Dresden, Tokyo, London -- before, but again, to reiterate, modern airpower, with its new precision weapons, allows an unprecedented degree of discrimination.”

There are many interests that converge in the War Culture, and one of the most difficult tasks for the analyst is to separate them and sort them by their various ‘degrees of discrimination’. And if this task wasn’t difficult in itself, there is a philosophical difficulty that is rarely mentioned, at least by historians, foreign policy think tankers, and political philosophers. The difficulty goes back to the standard assumption that war is derivative from the State. First we have the state, then we have the wars between states, just as first we have teams, then we have baseball. However, that assumption is rarely argued for. In LI’s opinion, you could just as well have war first – ontologically and historically, Hobbes’ war of all against all – and then the state. In this view, states derive from war, rather than the other way around. Just as Mallarme thought that everything strives to be written in a book, every war, striving to be part of the one war, leaves in its path fragments of itself. Those fragments are states. But war is the shaper. The more powerful the state, the more the culture becomes a war culture.

The philosophical warrant for this goes back to Heraclitus. The Heraclitean view is expressed in a cluster of fragments recently re-translated, along with the whole corpus of Heraclitus’ work, by Charles Kahn in The Art and Thought of Heraclitus. Fragment 51 reads: “Homer was wrong when he said “Would that Conflict might vanish from among gods and men!” For there would be no attunement without high and low notes nor any animals without male and female, both of which are opposites.” 52 reads: “One must realize that war is shared, and Conflict is Justice, and that all things come to pass (are are ordained?) in accordance with conflict. And 53, the most famous of the fragments on war, reads: War is the father of all and king of all; and some he has shown as gods, others men; some he has made slaves, others free.”

Kahn’s commentary on these fragments is interesting. According to him, the criticism of Homer is that he, like most men, cannot see how, behind appearance, there is a hidden fitting together of all things. According to Kahn, in these fragments, Heraclitus formulates four responses to the question: ‘What is it that most men do not comprhend.’

1. “One must realize that War is common (xynos, shared)’. “…in the place of the familiar thought that the fortunes of war are shared by both sides and that the victor today may be vanquished tomorrow, Heraclitus takes xynos, ‘common’ in his own sense of ‘universal’, ‘all-pervading’, ‘unifying’, and thus gives the words of the poets a deeper meaning they themselves did not comprehend. The symmetrical confrontation of the two sides in battle now becomes a figura for the shifting but reciprocal balance between opposites in human life in the natural world…”

2. “Conflict is Justice”. “Vlastos is clrearly right to insist that Heraclitus’ conception of cosmic justice goes beyond that of Anaximander [one of whose phrases is echoed in Heraclitus’ phrase], since he construes dike not merely as compensation for crime or excess but as a total pattern that includes both punishment and crime itself as necessary ingredients of the world order.

3. ‘All things come to pass in accordance with conflict.’ Kahn points out that this echoes the notion of all things coming to pass in logos. Come to pass can also be understood as birth – which then gives us the strange reversal of the 53rd fragment, since birth here comes from the father, not the mother.

4. “And all things are ordained by conflict.” Kahn thinks that the word for ordained is corrupt. But if it is ordained, he sees the ordination as that proper to an oracle.

If one has the heraclitean framework in mind, the idea that war solely serves the interests of states gives place to the question of what interests are being served by war. And this is a useful thing, insofar as states are not homogenous units. Although we are familiar with trans-national corporations, we still seem to grope when trying to understand transnational interests, which are usually attributed to the hegemonic ambition of a given state. And then, too, there is the definition of wars. We like to count them as distinct things, having beginnings and endings. However, we all know that wars might well have continuities disguised by the ceasefires or intervals of peace that supposedly define them into separate wars, and sometimes we acknowledge this by talking of world wars, or of the sixty or hundred years war.

I hope this isn’t a too utterly philosophical introduction to the topic I am going to discuss in the next post – William W. Ralph’s essay, in the latest issue of War in History, entitled: “Improvised Destruction: Arnold, LeMay, and the Firebombing of Japan,” which argues a thesis that might well explain the motivation for Arkin’s column – or at least one abiding, institutional motivation within the American War Culture.

Friday, August 18, 2006

rwg writing services

Alas, the editing jobs aren't pouring in this summer. We did get a nice note from a client who just graduated from {blank} university, the other day, thanking us for our work on his papers.

So, LI readers, drivebys, friends, Romans and Countrymen - help us out. Tell people about our writing service. The links are on the sidebar (or, for mysterious reasons, on the bottom of the page for those of you looking at this via IE 6).

Remember: a full blogger is a happy blogger.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

following this summer's murder story

There are some murders we follow. There are some murders we don’t.

During the infinite newscycle of OJ-iana, the only thing that really impressed us was the slo mo car chase. Oh, and OJ’s houseguest, Kato Kaelin. Actually, Kato impressed us a lot – what a job! My own parents evidently abused me: they never once mentioned the career opportunity of being a houseguest to the stars. If LI had known about this as a tyke, forget the dreams of wealth, or the teenage idea of writing and forging, in the smithy of my soul, the consciousness of my race – fuck that. I would have cultivated better hair, better connections, and practiced saying things in the mirror like, “My Cher,” (or Billy Bob or Telly or Chevy or whoever), this is a big place you got here! Roomy is no word for it. You must get lonely here sometimes, eh?” But no, as aforesaid, my folks abused me by hiding the facts, which I can only excuse them for partly by the fact that we were hicks living in Dekalb County, Georgia, where houseguests were usually your uncle or aunt.

But the murder of Jon Benet was much more interesting, in that sick way that certain murders unzip the underlife. Unfortunately, that is only probed by the tabloids. That is, by reporters and celebrity tv persona who have a fair share of the necessary voyeurism to gawp at the doings behind the drapes but no real curiosity about the meat and beat of people – about their pulsing existences. This is why tabloids are frustrating – they strip the two dimensional of its clothing, but its like the Rape of the Sabine Women being reenacted with mannequins. There is no there there not because there is no there there, but because the there has been condensed, evaporated, and replaced with there-substitute.. Plus, of course, the compass points are all the assumption that the only perspective is that of straight morality, and zero question about why, if the straight morality is such a good thing, we find it so utterly, utterly boring, and why it has created a system that is, in so many ways, detestable. Now, LI is not necessarily against boredom – as so many of our long posts attest! – but we do think that it is motivated, and hence subject to the endless novelist’s project.

Since we are neck deep, at the moment, in Mailer’s Executioner’s Song, we are just in the right spirit for the news about Jon Benet’s supposed killer. I should emphasize supposed, since a confession does not equal case solved. The confession is, to say the least, confused, and the pre-made articles pouring out from straight news outlets about how the tabloids injured the poor parents and distorted the facts – amazing how the press, resistant to any criticism about its three year obeisance to Bush and the rush to war, is always willing to criticize the tabloids for the rush to judgment on any given topic - aren’t convincing to me, yet. We will see.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

the story of the little lie that wants to be a big one

For the past month the United States has worked urgently to end the violence that Hezbollah and its sponsors have imposed on the people of Lebanon and Israel. –Condolezza Rice,

LI does have to wonder how long this joke can last. This is not, contrary to those who immediately go for the Nazi reference, a big lie. This is a little lie. It is little minded. There is little evidence that anybody believes it, except in D.C. circles and the White House. It is not the slogan of a triumphant imperialist movement, but the delusive cry of a ruined, debt ridden, arthritic giant, in slo mo fall as all the Jacks cut down all the beanstalks. So pathetic that it really is appropriate for the WAPO op ed page, that funhouse of thinktanker testosterone, the bipartisan CW that goes all the way from the Heritage Foundation to the New Republic, and produces the undead language of Krauthammer, Fred Hiatt and crewe, a stange speak that is more like a drug than a language, a bit of the old ultraviol swallowed by meritocratic peabrains, enlivened of course with that favorite magic word ‘terrorism.” But something is wrong here. Condi’s little lie lacks, somehow, the robust cynicism of the White House’s past real big lies – the wonderful, silky ones of 2002, when the White House was riding high on its failure to respond to the small threat posed by Al Qaeda in August 2001, its failure to defeat Al Qaeda in December- February, 2001-2002 (the start of the famous meme, Al Qaeda’s on the run, which has become the official way to describe the growth of Al Qaeda – related political parties as they extend their power in the nuclear armed state of Pakistan – always on the run, that OBL, and makin’ videos on the way. Why, he’s a cybernetic Bonnie Parker!) and its failure to sufficiently resource a brief war in Afghanistan, thus extending the stay of troops there ad infinitum – or until, as seems more and more likely, they are handed their asses.

O les beaux jours! So much for democratic intervention, eh? That sweetsounding name for mass murder in the name of superpower aggression – it passed like a fad. Like hula hoops, except with collateral casualties.

Rice’s delusions about what the UN resolution actually says are par for the course. But how about the U.S. making an effort to buy back a little love? Surely Cheney, et al., have enough experience with buying sex that they know – you get what you pay for. But no – cheap Johns to the very end, this is what the U.S is proposing:

“For our part, the United States is helping to lead relief efforts for the people of Lebanon, and we will fully support them as they rebuild their country. As a first step, we have increased our immediate humanitarian assistance to $50 million.”

That and a nickel will buy you ten yards of road repair from Brown and Root. Which may be the problem, in all honesty. There might not be enough profit in humanitarian assistance to Lebanon – no non-competitive contracts for Bush’s own al qaeda of war industry honchos – to make it worth gouging the U.S. treasury.

And so much for episode one, in which Uncle Sam tries to start a war with Iran using its little buddy Israel to light the fire, and its little buddy gets its fingers burnt. Stay tuned for episode two, in which we shift back to the war in Iraq, or, as the AEI site helpfully reminds us, THE WAR THAT WE HAVE ALREADY WON! for the ever stupider ways this administration spirals out of control. We'll be here -- mocking.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

liberalism and fear

Lately LI has been reading Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation. So we were pleased to see an article in the Journal of Social Philosophy by Frank Cunningham, a professor at the University of Toronto, that dealt with a central Polanyi-ish theme: does a market economy necessarily generate a market culture? To clarify the problem, Cunningham quotes a pertinent passage in one of Polanyi’s essays:

“This institutional gadget, which became the dominant force in the economy—now justly described as a market economy—then gave rise to yet another, even more extreme development, namely as a whole society embedded in the mechanism of its own economy—a market society.”

This may seem like an esoteric theme, but, in actuality, it is the central problem of our time. If the one always leads to the other, not only is liberalism sunk, but the ability to meet the enormous environmental challenges that are even now building in the oceans and the heavens is doomed to failure. That will then doom to failure whole swathes of the planet. For instance, the melting of the glacial system in the Himalayas will essential drain the source of water for around 400 to 500 million Indians and Chinese. Although the libertarians, Randians, Bushians and other fine purveyors of superstition probably don’t know this, without water, people die. The Randians, et al., would probably answer that at least they would die in freedom, able to freely exchange their whole life savings for a couple of cups of water before expiring. And think of the enormous flexibility this would put into the labor market!

But these people are crazy. Unfortunately, at the moment they govern the planet, write the newspapers, and release the bombs. To use the word in the proper sense, they are the terrorist class.

Terror, or fear, is, according to Cunningham, one of the great connectors between a market economy and a market society. Cunningham makes the case that what is commonly viewed as greed – that insatiable avarice for more money driving the ideal type capitalist (he quotes John D. Rockefeller’s response to the question, how much do you need, by saying – “just a little more”) is actually driven by the fear that is promoted by one of the mechanisms of the market – its efficiency. That efficiency depends, in good old capitalist fashion, on removing ‘unnatural’ restraints to the pricing of commodities.

“Still, market economies are characterized by expansion of the market into all domains. Part of the explanation for this is greed for profits, but I suggest that at a more primordial level expansion derives from insecurity or, more precisely, fear.
Competition among producers and retailers promotes efficiency by prompting them to make and distribute things that people want and by keeping the costs of those things down—this is the key premise of free market economic theory. But at the same time, competitors must fear each other. Employment of wage labor with the omnipresent threat of dismissal keeps wages down, thus reducing this cost of production or distribution. Privatization of publicly needed goods provides captive markets. From the side of working people and consumers, market economies are also fearful places. Wage laborers must fear dismissal. Market transactions may signal consumer preferences, but they do not guarantee that goods produced in response to those preferences will be affordable.”

Cunningham’s point is that fear is what turns the relation of the economic and social around – in Polanyi’s terms, what makes it the case that, in capitalism, the economy is no longer embedded in social relationships, but social relationships are embedded in the economy.

Cunningham gracefully moves from his analysis of the key role played by fear to the kind of social philosophy I recognize as liberal:

"The upshot of the foregoing is that a market economy can be prevented from engendering a market society by voiding it of fear. There is no mystery about the sorts of measures to accomplish this. They include a guaranteed annual income,full employment through job creation and training, adequate health and old age care programs, and the like. At the end of the paper I shall return to some questions about what structural arrangements (welfare capitalist or a more socialist alternative) are necessary to inhibit the nurturing of a possessive individualist culture, while maintaining room for an economic market. Here I pursue the hypothesis’ cultural implications.

Removing fear from the market would inhibit selfishness at least to the extent that people could afford to be moral." [my italics]

The last sentence is excellent, since this is the heart of liberalism – allowing people to afford morality. And the attack on fear connects up to the founding political father of liberalism in the U.S. – Roosevelt – who explicitly connected liberal programs with fear.

Yet this interpretation also hints at the reason that liberal society decays. Once one removes fear, after all, it is like past pain – the memory of it is not equivalent to the thing itself. Liberal society can lead to two things – the kind of free riding that re-introduces a conservative politics; and a search for invulnerability that feeds into a perpetual war culture.

About which LI will have more to say later.

Monday, August 14, 2006

professor challenger, the stupidity seismograph, and the WAPO editorial board

In the world of Conan Doyle’s Professor Challenger, there is always another fantastic machine being tinkered with in one of the world’s laboratories. Unfortunately, Professor Challenger was undone by one of those machines, Nemor’s diabolical disintegration machine, that makes objects vanish. Before Challenger vanished himself, however, he said something prophetic: 'You cannot explain one incredible thing by quoting another incredible thing,' said Challenger.

The Challenger principle is, of course, denied every day by the current administration of cons and imbeciles and their minions in the press. But Challenger himself might be inclined to give LI some slack on our latest invention. It is called the stupidity seismograph. The principle is quite simple. Just feed the editorials of the Washington Post to the machine, and you can actually map waves of stupidity as they travel from one pole of conventional wisdom to the other. I’m not sure how to patent it, however.

Today’s editorial threatened to shake the machine to bits, so powerful were these particular waves of stupidity. The headline – hold onto your hats – is: “A Month of War:
And now, at least a chance for peace.”

This is, perhaps, not as self evident as a 7 on the stupid scale to the laymen, but to those of us who have been using the WAPO editorial page (not only for our scientific studies, but as a highly satisfying way to wipe our asses), the blood in their mouth whoops of the editorial board, which dines on roasted cadaver of Lebanese child, with a little cream sauce on the side (a perfect meal for you and your date at Signature, the restaurant to go to in D.C.!) have of course been all about delaying peace until the land of Lebanon, and its people, were all in pieces. Imagine the moral imagination of a serial killer, wrapped up in the dulcet tones of Charles Krauthammer.

Nemor baited Challenger in that last, dramatic episode of the Professor’s life. He pointed to his machine and said, with a villainous voice: 'This is the model which is destined to be famous, as altering the balance of power among the nations.’ The balance of power among nations does have a way of generating villainy, especially when it is all about preserving an essential imbalance among nations, in which some are heros, bombing calmly and humanely in the most expensive machinery, while some are evildoers that out evil do Fu Manchu, lurking around in their villages and not even painting targets on their roofs or clothes. Disgusting subhuman… er, subhumans! Or to put it in the stupid tones of the WAPO crowd (this is a 7.5 – watch out!):

“Now the United Nations has called for the Lebanese armed forces to deploy to southern Lebanon and -- because they are woefully weak -- for an international force of 15,000 troops to join them. The resolution doesn't explicitly authorize the force to disarm Hezbollah but it does authorize it "to take all necessary action" to ensure that southern Lebanon can no longer be used as a base for attacks against Israel. Importantly, U.S. diplomats resisted demands that Israel withdraw immediately, which would have created a vacuum that Hezbollah would quickly have filled. Instead, Israel will withdraw as the Lebanese and international forces arrive, which could take several weeks.”

Ah, the security, the peace, as of the grave, and the moral benefit all the way around, of a force that “fills in” those untidy vacuums. That exist, alas, outside of one’s own boundary lines – although, as we know from the unenforced and apparently unnoticed 40 years of U.N. resolutions, those boundary lines on the west bank are a tricky thing! It appears that Israelis grow, actually, on the West Bank much like mushrooms – who knew? Which is why Israel has a justified claim there, and - vide the delicious WAPO op ed page - to Damascas, and actually to Baghdad, and beyond. Israel should, as we know, be exactly the same size as the Middle East. It would be, well, an opportunity, n’est-ce pas? Birth pangs of the new Middle East, where opportunity runs through the streets like white phosphorus.

Now the stupidity seismograph had to be turned off at the next paragraph. It started throwing itself around the lab, and issuing a most unseismograph like horse laugh. It did a jig, thumbed its nose, and finally made a long and disgusting fart sound. When we finally de-activated the gizmo, we were curious to see what part of the WAPO editorial caused that behavior. These were the words (warning: may cause heartburn, madness, and diarrhea – or an uncontrollable urge to pie pundits):

“Secretary General Kofi Annan deplored how long it took for the Security Council to act, but it may be that the damage inflicted on Hezbollah during a month of fighting is what led it to accept the terms of the resolution.”

You can’t get stupider than that, surely. However, we have not yet fed the seismograph the editorials praising the progress we are making in the Iraq war. We are waiting for funding to get a new, special alloy, a combination of iron, bullshit, and flipundium. Anyone who wants to fund or work on this project is urged to contact LI’s lab.

olivier blanchard and the free lunch: a comedy of errors

  The neolib economist Oliver Blanchard tweeted a very funny comedy bit, in which he played the part of “social democrat”. And he wrote: “As...