Friday, April 25, 2008

Crazy Ape Bonkers Physical Chemistry Metaphor Weekend, Day One

I have been hanging out for a lucid counter-narrative to my narrative for the Iraq War(s) for some time now. As you may recall, my problem is not there aren’t any reasonably consistent counter-narratives, it’s just that none I can think of can possibly be the informing counter-narrative of the omnipresent anti-war establishment I see around me.

Here are the counter-narratives I have thought of:

1. The Ground is the Image. This is just how my narrative appears if you think human rights are bollocks and you might be next on the regime-change to-do list. As my long-long-ago post about Darfur suggests, this to-do list logically expands to encompass Russia and the RMP, so it is not surprising that they would not be onside. This worldview will also to a very large extend determine the position of the United Nations, as the higher ideals many nations may want to express through that body will tend to be dragged down to the level of the unrepresentative swill. I have no sympathy with this counter-narrative, as might be expected.

2. They’re hopeless. Hopeless! GWB et al are so incompetent that there is no chance that their Napoleonic project will come off. As a pragmatist, I can see the sense in this counter-narrative. But as outlined in the Hillel Halkin piece that I circulated to kick off our ‘warblogging by email’ so many years ago, this logically suggests that once the war is underway, anyone who shares the view that human rights are not bollocks should chip in and help. And anyone in the United States who does not want to see their country take a serious hit to their prestige and influence ought to chip in and help. It could be argued that the war would still fail, even with our help; or as Andrew did in 2003, that if we make it too easy, GWB et al will just try it again. But once it becomes evident that the project will probably come off, but with a great deal of difficulty, these arguments no longer apply. I think this is basically the counter-narrative of McCain. This narrative also applies much more to Afghanistan than to Iraq. Iraq is flat, urbanised, educated, close to allied states, strategically important, and has a track record of being successfully conquered. Afghanistan is not any of these things.

3. The US is the Great Satan. If you are Noam Chomsky or John Pilger, you believe in human rights and the rule of law (I think) but you see the world through a lens that magnifies all the transgressions of the United States and makes it *the* great evil in the world. You can select your data, I think, so that you could honestly hold this view. But if you are one of these people, you will have no strong feelings on whether Obama or McCain should be president. You know what Kennedy and Johnson got up to. You wrote articles saying that Clinton was a Nazi when he was president. You protested against the war on Serbia, and you know that a Democratic victory is still a victory for the Military-Industrial complex. As a contrarian, I have some admiration for those who cleave honestly to this narrative. Opposing someone who is stronger than you and could crush you like a bug *because* they are stronger than you and could crush you like a bug is stirring and noble and appeals to the small fraction of Irishness in my blood.

4. My Kingdom is Not of this World. The transcendent moral law prohibits war. There is a greater spiritual universe compared to which this mortal world is an insignificant mote, and the disfiguring effect of war on just one soul outweighs any temporal benefit. It is better to be butchered with a clear conscience than to take up arms. To hold this position, you need to believe in moral absolutes, like Tolstoy or Gandhi or Pope Benedict. And if you do, you will have protested just as loudly when the war machine rolled out over Serbia and Afghanistan. As an idealist, I admire this narrative. This is the narrative that sometimes gives me pause.

But my problem remains. These counter-narratives are not the counter-narratives of the Devil Bunny City Morning Herald or of Nancy Pelosi. I believe that the apparent consensus view of educated people in the West is not a coherent counter-narrative to my narrative at all, but a muddled superposition of all these counter-narratives. Like a molecular orbital can be represented as a linear combination of orthogonal atomic orbitals, this counter-narrative is a linear combination of orthogonal counter-narratives. It does not form a consistent structure that can be described by classical narrative theory, but is a decoherent quantum superposition of narratives.


Marco said...

There is an intense clarity in this post that I haven't seen in a while from you! I must admit that none of the four appeal to me as counter-narratives by themselves, and the current anti-war hodge-podge of narratives drives me insane.

By even just changing semantics, going from the soldiers being in a war zone, to a transition to "peace-keeping" to a force that is helping and aiding the Iraqi democratic government - They could be there in the same numbers, doing exacty the things that they are doing now, and there would be very little of this anti-war clap-trap. I hope that that is the main thing that new US, British and Aus governments will tend to do. If GWB and previous governments tried just changing semantics like that, it would just make them look weak.

I even think that the problem isn't the Iraq war itself, but the premise of wars in general. He who declares the war is like the messenger who deserves to be shot. I think Margaret Thatcher had a sense about this in the Falklands. The lack of clarity in who "threw the first punch" as it were, kept the peaceniks off balance without a scapegoat to vent their fury against.

Dr. Clam said...

Thanks for the faint praise, Marco! I expect I will get back to mushy opaque sophistry before too long. :P

The lack of any historical sense in the media and the general consciousness bodes well for your semnatic shift. I think we will see it pulled off successfully!