Sunday, November 23, 2008

REALITY ISN’T JUST A PRETTY NAME

Chris Hedges, as always, offers acute thoughts in his article “America’s Wars of Self-Destruction”, originally on Truthdig but also on Truthout (http://www.truthout.org/111708D )

Recounting the utter strategic folly of declaring global and generational ‘war’ on “a tactic” (terrorism) and on “evil” (whose ‘homeland’ is, famously, beyond the reach even of the U.S. military and even of its chaplainry, whether handling snakes or thumping Bibles), he adverts that We have, in effect, declared a very physical ‘war’ against a ‘metaphysical’ entity. And that is verrrry uncomfortably close to the standard set-up for any number of half-century-old B and C-level Saturday matinee horror flicks, where the villagers with pitchforks or the Army with tanks and bazookas attempt to defeat evil demons from beyond.

It has come to this. We – Boomers and their follow-on generations – are now re-enacting the amusements of their youth. Only this time with whole armies, whole economies, and the copious blood being shed isn’t just chocolate sauce or motor oil on a cheap soundstage. We may go out on a note of historical farce before this is all over, but held responsible for it all nonetheless.

And how We smirked at the hapless Catholic priests trying to drive the devil out of Rosemary’s baby thirty-five long years ago. Stand aside, pathetic poseurs! The Army is going to do it now, and if the babies have to be destroyed in order to save them, well …. Yahoo and Can-do! Been there – done that. But it’s more than pea-soup that’s flying through the air now.

Hedges observes that ‘We have a childish belief that Obama will magically save us from economic free fall, restore our profligate levels of consumption and resurrect our imperial power”. It’s amazing how, in the past forty years of shrill demands for and brassy-gassy celebrations of ‘empowerment’ and ‘liberation’, yet the American citizenry is more passive, more unable to think, more incapable of facing up to ‘reality’, more emotionally gelatinous, and more dependent upon some ‘father-figure’ (or ‘mother-figure’) to tell Us it’s not Our fault, wave off all consequences, and make everything go back to the way it was before We frakked it all up.

At the risk of sounding age-ist or judgmental, I’d say that We have become infantilized, male and female together.

He asserts that “this naïve belief is part of our disconnection with reality”. Ah. Bingo, as they say. Of course, ‘reality’ has taken quite a beating. The National Security State simply wanted to define it as whatever is in America’s or the Establishment’s or the government’s interest.

The National Nanny State went about it – drawing a lesson from its Leninist grand-uncle – in a far more organized manner: it embraced a modern variant of old philosophical Nominalism to assert that there is no ‘Reality’, there is only whatever any particular group chooses to call or name ‘reality’, which is always subject to change. And for good measure slathered a hefty dollop of deconstructionist theory to the effect that every oppressive group seeks to define ‘reality’ in such a way that it can continue to oppress the oppressed and – ta-dah! – with the cooperation of the oppressed who figure that if you can’t fight city hall, you sure as hell can’t fight ‘reality’.

So out went ‘Reality’ and any ‘reality’ that could reasonably (very generously defined) be construed as ‘oppressing’ anybody. Out went the fences. But the trellises as well, alas. Out went the walls. But the frameworks as well, alas.

Can’t squeeze through to get to the green grass on the other side? Break the bones that keep you ‘too rigid’. Thus the skeleton goes. That’s OK, it’s a good thing: now you’re much less ‘rigid’ and much more ‘flexible’. And how does a creature keep its shape without an endo-skeleton? Why with an exo-skeleton of course, a shell encasing and protecting the inner mush. Provided by a government now taken over – in their dampdreams – by the vanguard elites who ‘get it’ and are willing to make a great living doing the right thing for those sad lumps who ‘just don’t get it’. That was the plan, that still is the plan for far too many folks, and the consequences will intensify accordingly.

I’m not making a case here for troglodyte primitivism. But these consequences – not altogether unintended – could hardly have been unforeseen. Although, you have to ask yourself: did the screaming screw-ups of the Iraq War strategy simply leap full-blown from the whacked-out, half-clever minds of the Bushist Imperium? I think not. I think an almost premeditated, purposeful un-realism was pretty much par for the course in this country before Bush was ever – you should pardon the expression – elected.

How the frak do We fix this? Don’t even ask how ‘Obama’ is going to fix this. He was born the year JFK urged Us to ‘ask what you can do for your country’. By the time he was taking care of his own business at the potty - no offense intended – five years later that era of JFK was gone, baby, gone. Five short years and the whole American ‘world’ changed, and if not for the worse to all appearances, then at huge and unconsidered price – as We now can see. This has not been JFK country for quite some time, stranger. When they say ‘Camelot’ didn’t last very long, they said more than they ever knew.

Nominalism is dressed up now with the scientific moniker ‘social constructionism’. The insight of the latter is that human beings ‘construct’ what is their ‘reality’, as a group and as individuals.

From that it follows that there is no way they can know for certain any one big Reality ‘out there’; there’s no scientific way to prove that the ‘knowledge’ is accurate.

From that it follows that there is no one big Reality out there at all. We construct it for ourselves, as groups and as individuals.

Now the problem becomes: there is no ‘fixed point of reference’ which has an existence independent of humans and more substantive than human figurings, upon which serious life-affecting decisions and regulations can be made.

It’s as if, having come across some strange alien machine, and not knowing how it works and not being able to communicate with the designers, we just have to come up with some best guesses that we all agree is the way to use the thing. In a less enlightened age we might posit the example of natives coming across an abandoned airplane on their island, and having finally figured out how to start the engine, they proceed to cut down huge swaths of the island’s forests so that it can be driven around, like a giant bus with strange, protruding decorations. (The gas will run out eventually, but let’s not get ahead of things.)

This is the adventure of Nominalism in the modern world. There is no score, so everybody with an instrument get together (or not) and play what everybody (or somebody) thinks best. Until … they don’t. And then the whole thing starts over again.

And that’s without getting into just how people are supposed to find meaning in a life where there is nothing ‘fixed’ and ‘beyond’ them that can anchor their hopes and fears, let alone care.

But of course, if there’s no ‘scientific proof’ then there’s nothing there. Which has worked out quite well, in the short run but over and over again, for numerous groups that figured they would help matters by imposing their own ‘reality’. Meaning was reduced to the satisfaction (it would be too much to call it happiness) one would get from being a (almost always) very small part of that great saga.

Like the Bushisti now, the many vanguard elites of the past decades do not at this point want to acknowledge that they really intended to deconstruct the whole damned country - in terms of its fundamental grounds of meaning and purpose. But that’s where it’s led to, and to read a lot of them, you have to think that all along they sorta did. Feith and the feminists actually do have something in common, besides tenure at major universities.

Hedges sounds the call that ‘reality’ is playing now, summoning Us: “The old America is not coming back.” Hark ye to him. Boomers, the country you were born into, the country that was on top of the world – is gone. The America of 1945, 1955, 1965, even the moon-landing country of 1969, is gone and it’s gone for good.

I suppose you should have realized it when it turned 1980 and the cars weren’t flying. Maybe the computers and other shiny gizmos distracted you. Or when the ‘jobs’ suddenly became all burger-flipping and shelf-stocking, the stuff teens did in the old America just for pocket money after school.

Or when the Democrats kept rolling over so they could be ‘bipartisan’, but the Republicans never gave any ground of their own away. And the Democrats kept getting ‘bamboozled’ – but nobody thought after a couple-six years to figure they were either stupid as frakking rocks or treacherous as snakes.

But they weren’t stupid there in the Beltway. They figured a way to keep everybody stocked up with nice shiny stuff, even as the whole base of industry and decent jobs was being deconstructed for shipment overseas: cheap credit.

A citizenry that had learned to accept that ‘reality’ was whatever you wanted it to be was in no position to really say that something was not on the level – the standard solution was to change the way you were holding your head until things did appear level again. This is not an adult way to proceed. It never was. But then, ‘adult’ is a judgmental and age-ist term and so insensitive and inappropriate. Thus distracted, it was no longer asked But is it accurate?

So here We are. The party’s over. ‘Reality’ has returned, and needless to say, uninvited. Nor have many wise virgins made preparations, nor are lamps trimmed. Indeed, where are the lamps now? Where were they put – like old Christmas decorations – when ‘reality’ was declared nothing but a human (American, really) house-pet?

Time for a rendezvous with destiny. Time to show how this generation is going to be ‘the greatest’. Time to ‘man’ up (is that sexist? – I haven’t seen a memo).

But this is also the time to consider that there is a Reality after all. And that it cares. We leave politics behind with this thought. But We take a certain philosophy with Us, into a further realm.

Do I have to draw a map? The old ones are still around. Where We left them.

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