Monday, May 23, 2022

Thoughts on Michael Scheuer, the Perfect War, and Wasteland


Thoughts on Michael Scheuer, The Perfect War, and Wasteland

Peter Schultz


            Bin Laden as a “terrorist” is bin Laden objectified. Once objectified, we can do whatever we want to him, and we certainly don’t have to listen to him.


            Michael Scheuer writes about how Muslims see bin Laden and, thereby, he’s going beyond the objectified bin Laden, the “terrorist.” Scheuer is trying to experience bin Laden as Muslims experience him; he trying to move beyond what we know about him and trying to know him. He doesn’t want to know more about bin Laden; he wants to know his better or deeper.


            Following the production mode consciousness, intelligence agencies and agents want more knowledge, thinking that the more knowledge they have, the better prepared they will be to handle situations because these will be clearer. What they don’t realize is that what they should be doing is piecing together a whole, i.e., in bin Laden’s case, the whole person. They gather pieces of “intell,” the facts, but they lack the imagination to put these facts together to form a whole. So, they are repeatedly surprised by events that more imaginative people could and did see: Pearl Harbor, 9/11, Hitler’s invasion of the USSR, Egypt’s invasion of the Sinai, the Tet attacks in Vietnam, as examples.


            It wasn’t a deficit of facts that allowed 9/11 to happen; it was a lack of imagination. The production mode consciousness, the single vision, emphasizes deficits – here of facts. It is thought regarding 9/11 that we needed more facts, more intell, not a more expansive, imaginative consciousness. Scheuer is trying to expand our consciousness and, by doing so, is deemed to be subversive. Note the madness: Illumination, imagination is subversive! And, of course, it is. It always is. Just ask Socrates or MLK or Malcolm X.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Biden, Ukraine, and Technowar


Biden, Ukraine, and Technowar

Peter Schultz


            Joe Biden is following the dictates of the production model of war, which calls for increasing the “production capacity” of Ukraine and which was employed by the US in the Vietnam War. The problem is that in Vietnam, this model of war “simultaneously destroyed both [US] troops and the Vietnamese people, but it could not produce victory.” [The Perfect War: Technowar in Vietnam, p. 125]


            The emphasis is properly on the words “could not.” The only way to produce victory via the production model of war would be the total annihilation of the enemy. That this is so may be illustrated by the North’s conduct of the Civil War, and in WW II by Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. In Ukraine, the production model of war is destroying Ukrainian and Russian troops and the Ukrainian people but it cannot produce victory, just as it couldn’t in Afghanistan or Iraq.


            The slaughter, the savagery will continue despite Biden’s decisions to increase the productive capacity of Ukraine and despite Putin’s decision of the same kind regarding Russian forces. The war will end when it dawns on those with power that victory cannot be achieved militarily, as happened to the Russians and the United States in Afghanistan. With regard to Vietnam, the Vietnamese won because they understood that the war was a continuation of politics, not a prelude or an alternative to politics. Because the Vietnamese knew that the war could only be won politically, not militarily, they knew they could lose battles – some in the US say they lost them all – and still win the war. The US elites never understood this. Perhaps they will come to understand it in Ukraine but, given Biden’s decisions, it doesn’t seem likely.

Friday, May 20, 2022

If Voting Matterd, ETC.


If Voting Mattered, ETC.

Peter Schultz


            I have decided or did decide some time ago not to vote. Why vote when whoever you vote for will do nothing to correct or reform the oligarchic imperialism the defines American politics, and while voting legitimizes that oligarchic imperialistic order. We need “new modes and orders” and voting will not accomplish that as it reinforces or fortifies our “old” or the prevailing modes and orders. Which is why our leading politicians and others invested in the status quo pound away at the importance of voting, that we are duty-bound to vote as if the 11th commandment said “Thou shalt vote!”


            Voting is paradoxical because it’s both the exercise and the surrender of power. And the latter, the surrender of power, is the final, the longest lasting effect of voting. Once you’ve voted, you have given your power away, transferred it to someone else over whom you have almost no power. This is a dilemma that cannot be solved. Real reform, real change, has to come in other ways, viz., by people rejecting the approved “wisdom,” the conventional wisdom, by embracing what is labeled “extremism” because it rejects the prevailing conventional wisdom or, to get even more extremist, because it rejects all forms of conventional wisdom in toto. Once wisdom becomes conventional, officially approved, it is not wisdom – just as “near beer” isn’t beer or just as “reality tv shows” aren’t actually real [they all have writers writing script].


            This is why those who challenge the conventional wisdom are so dangerous to the “old,” or the established modes and orders. Just as Socrates said in the Republic that the poets had to be exiled, so too today those who challenge the established consciousness are “exiled” by way of marginalization. Those who see the conventional wisdom for what it is – illusion – produce what is labeled “entertainment,” which allows for “escapism,” stuff that is to be enjoyed but not taken seriously.


            Those who make, say, Jane Austen out to be either a “traditionalist” or a “left-winger” don’t see her extremism or radicalness. The same is true of others, like Mark Twain, Montesquieu, or Leo Strauss. Strauss argued that this is what disciples do, what Platonists did, what Jesus’s disciples did, what all disciples do, turn radical thought into conventional wisdom, thereby undermining the originality, the radicalness of genuinely creative human beings. Strauss, I would say, would not be a “Straussian” as that group is and wishes to be conventionally understood.


            Hence, Machiavelli recommended the necessity of returning to “the roots” of what were new modes and orders. These returns – are they eternal, ala’ Nietzsche? – might or will not be peaceful. Still, they are, as Jefferson put it, as cleansing in the political world as storms are in the natural world. And like storms in the natural world, the stronger, the more violent they are, the more cleansing they are.


            But Machiavelli told us also that there have been “unarmed prophets” who succeeded, who cleansed old modes and orders or who created new modes and orders, even without great violence. Of course, Machiavelli was writing about Jesus and the triumph of Christianity, a triumph that was non-violent so long as it wasn’t taken to be conventional wisdom. Once it had become the conventional wisdom, Constantine’s sword appeared and the pogroms, the crusades, and the inquisition followed. The sword appeared because conventional wisdom is illusionary and only way to maintain illusions is with force, that is, violently.


            Insofar as what some refer to as the “new world order” is our conventional wisdom, we should expect endless wars, wars that need not be won but wars that need to be fought in order to fortify the new world order and its illusions. Those who think that the new world order will bring peace don’t understand the human condition. As Plato succinctly put it: “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”

Friday, May 13, 2022

Hair on Fire: Contesing Consciousnesses


Hair on Fire: Contesting Consciousnesses

Peter Schultz


            In a bureaucracy, those who are “running around with their hair on fire” always lose the arguments because they are not being objective.


            And yet bureaucracies actually fuel the “hair on fire” phenomenon because they drive people to such behavior in an attempt to transcend objectivity to reveal “real reality.” People are driven to such “extreme” behavior, which is then, because it is seen as extreme, rejected. This illustrates the power of bureaucracy or of an objectified consciousness. Those who don’t buy into this consciousness are seen as “extreme” or “mad” or insane, and they are marginalized, ala’ the “Airplane 4 crowd” in the Minneapolis FBI office in the run-up to 9/11.


            So, the dispute over the “20th hijacker” in Minnesota was actually a contest between the consciousness of objectivity and another kind of consciousness. The same contest was evident in the run-up to the 9/11 attacks generally. But the dissenters aren’t aware of what’s going on, that they are in fact challenging “the single vision” consciousness that characterizes an objectified world. And they are not aware that there are alternatives to that single vision consciousness.


            Novelists and poets are more likely to be aware of what’s going on. In fiction, presenting an alternative consciousness is common. Witness Vonnegut, Austen, Twain, Greene, McCarthy, or O’Brien. For Twain, what of Tom and Huck, two alternative consciousnesses? Or Merlin and the Connecticut Yankee? Austen in Emma, the early Emma and the later Emma? And of course not only in Emma. Or what about Twain’s Joan of Arc? Did Joan represent an alternative consciousness? And both the Church’s condemnation of Joan and her sainthood miss her meaning, the meaning of her consciousness, as both her condemnation and her sainthood flatten her out, reduce her complexity to make her fit into the single vision. In these authors and their works, we can catch glimpses of “contesting consciousnesses.” 



            And perhaps this is what Aristotle and Machiavelli were about. Aristotle and Machiavelli were investigating what I’ll call “the political consciousness,” and looking for and indicating, at least covertly, an alternative. In investigating the political consciousness both Aristotle and Machiavelli engaged in irony and, hence, their teachings are at times humorous and meant to be humorous. And regarding Aristotle, I can hear Pascal and his argument that Aristotle thought reforming politics was like trying to bring order into a madhouse, meaning political consciousness is, in fact, madness. As Pascal wrote, there are people who think that being “king” and “queen” is something real. And Aristotle is famous for having asserted, “Man is the political animal," meaning that human beings have embraced political consciousness and even treat it as natural. And, regarding Machiavelli, because he was investigating human consciousness, it is misleading to call Machiavelli the teacher of evil, even though in some sense this is correct. Machiavelli was saying, I think, that the evil is there, it’s a fact, even the fact of life, but if it is objectified via government, it could serve to ameliorate the human condition. Objectified, evil is useful, even indispensable. Of course, it is easy to think of Plato’s Republic as his investigation of the political consciousness, presented ironically through Socrates, whose philosophical consciousness was humorously characterized by Aristophanes in The Clouds. And what of Augustine and his Confessions? Another investigation of human consciousness, one kind that is uninformed by God and another that is informed by God? 

            Defending philosophy is defending a particular and even peculiar kind of consciousness, a consciousness that is always in conflict with political consciousness. And this helps make sense of Socrates and his investigations of politicians, poets, and artisans in Athens to see what they knew. And it also helps understand the subversive character of Socrates’ conclusion that the difference between himself and the Athenians is that while both didn’t know the most important stuff, Socrates knew he didn’t know that stuff, while the others thought they did. For what could be more challenging to political consciousness than a recognition, a claim that we humans do not and probably cannot know the most important things because, after all, what all politicians claim, and what all societies take for granted, is that they know the most important things. A consciousness of ignorance is, as it were, always subversive. 

[I said recently that all politicians should learn to say, “We’ll see!” Which is what Zen Buddhists say.]

Friday, May 6, 2022

Two Nightmares: Vietnam and Watergate


Two Nightmares: Vietnam and Watergate

Peter Schultz


            Both the Vietnam War and Watergate have been described as “nightmares” and this description has taken hold. But “nightmares” are dreams, so they aren’t real. They are dreams and, so described, the war and Watergate disappear, become unreal. That is, it is not at all clear if they are described as nightmares, what they were.


            What was the Vietnam War? Was it, as it is often described, as a quagmire, that is, a series or mistakes or small missteps, that led to the US being pulled into a war in Asia, a war it never wanted? Or was it the result of an imperialistic politics? If it is thought of as the former, then it made sense for Robert McNamara, after the war ended, to hold a conference of US and Vietnamese to try to figure out objectively what had happened, that led to “the tragedy” of that war. If, however, it was the latter, it was an imperialistic phenomenon, then it would be necessary to confront the issue of imperialism, and especially of American imperialism. It would be necessary to ask: Why was/is the American political order imperialistic?


            Interestingly, the same question arises with regard to what is called “Watergate.” Of course, “Watergate,” as everyone knows, is shorthand for assessing the Nixon administration and its politics. So, was “Watergate” the result of a series of mistakes, of missteps that led Nixon, et. al., to commit acts that eventually forced Nixon to resign the presidency to avoid impeachment? Or did “Watergate” reflect the imperialistic politics that characterizes the American political order? Was “Watergate” a quagmire or the result of an imperialistic politics?


            Watergate began, as it were, with the publication of the Pentagon Papers, as Nixon and Kissinger were attempting to redefine US predominance in the world by ending the Vietnam War, creating d├ętente with the Soviet Union, and legitimating Communist China as part of the international order. Nixon claimed that secrecy was absolutely essential to achieve his goals, that without secrecy his goals would have been undermined by his enemies, most of whom were “conservatives.” In fact, we know there were those in the Department of Defense, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who were spying on the Nixon White House in order to assess and undermine Nixon’s political agenda. Nixon learned of this, but he decided not to confront it publicly because that would undermine the secrecy he needed to succeed.


            But it is important to understand that secrecy, “secrecy and dispatch” in the words of Publius in the Federalist Papers, is always necessary given the imperialistic character of the American political order. Thus, secrecy can be traced throughout US history, for example, in the administration of JFK given his plans to pull out of Vietnam after he re-election in 1964; in LBJ’s administration as he planned to push into Vietnam after the 1964 election; Reagan’s actions in Nicaragua and Iran; Papa Bush’s invasion of Iraq to get Saddam out of Kuwait; Bush Jr’s. invasion of Iraq; and even the actions of the CIA in the run up to the 9/11 attacks.


            So, the two “nightmares,” the Vietnam War and Watergate may be said to have been the result of imperialistic politics, of an imperialistic political order in the United States, an order that, presciently, some of the Anti-Federalists claimed the new, consolidated government to be created under the proposed constitution would become. Ending these “nightmares” wouldn’t change much insofar as the imperialistic politics that underlay them continued. The US pulled out of Vietnam and Nixon was driven from office, but the imperialistic order continued on in different disguises, e.g., “morning in America” [Reagan], a “new world order [Bush I], “the war on terror” [Bush Jr.], or as “making America great again” [Trump]. And now, with Biden, it’s being disguised as “a return to normalcy.” It might be prudent, though, to expect another “nightmare,” perhaps one involving Ukraine.

Monday, May 2, 2022

Watergate: Our Long National Nightmare


Watergate: Our Long National Nightmare

Peter Schultz


            To keep things real, Watergate was and is illuminating as just another battle as the ambitious and the avaricious amongst us contended for power. That is, it was an all-too-typical event of the kind that characterizes American politics. Watergate illuminated and illuminates what we’ve become or what we’ve been.


            Because it was so illuminating of what we are, and because so illuminated we couldn’t help but be anxious over what we are, it was imperative to reduce Watergate to Richard Nixon. That is, as President Ford said immediately after Nixon resigned the presidency, “our long national nightmare is over,” meaning that our nightmare didn’t have roots in our political order but only in the person of Richard Nixon. Once Nixon was gone, removed from power, our “nightmare” was over and we could, apparently, sleep peacefully once again.


            In American politics, it’s always the “bad guys” who are to blame. So, to deal with Watergate, we only had to deal with Richard Nixon; we didn’t have to deal with the presidency itself as a potential source of our troubles. Moral failings explain our troubles, not the defects of our political order. We view the world moralistically, not politically, and so we always blame presidents but never the presidency. Our moralism blinds us to the political roots of our troubles.


            At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Benjamin Franklin gave, or had read, a speech in which he recommended not paying presidents. He did so because he thought that an office that appealed to the ambitiously avaricious or the avariciously ambitious was an office that would prove to be fatal to decent government. Unlike Hamilton, Franklin apparently did not subscribe to the thought that “the love of fame [was] the ruling passion of the noblest minds.” The love of fame, which is a pursuit of a kind of immortality, especially when rewarded materially, would lead to constant battles for power. So, Franklin argued, “the peaceful” would not seek office and civil peace would not prevail. Politics would be characterized by endless battles for power, characterized by constant calumny, to the detriment of the peace and decency of society.


            After examining the Watergate scandal for some time, it seems to me that Franklin had it exactly right. There were no “good guys,” although there were more than a few “bad guys,” if by bad is meant people ambitiously and greedily seeking power or to displace those who had acquired it. But then Watergate was hardly a unique event in American politics. The same phenomenon is visible repeatedly in our political drama, as mention of Bill Clinton’s impeachment and the Clarence Thomas and Bret Kavanaugh confirmation hearings will attest. And the reason these phenomena repeatedly arise is because our political institutions are defective, because they appeal to the ambitious and the avaricious and reward them when these vices bring them victory. The roots of our troubles are political and, as a result, our nightmares didn’t end with Nixon, nor will they end with the demise of Donald Trump.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Watergate and American Poltiics as A Morality Play


Watergate and American Politics as A Morality Play

Peter Schultz


            It will shock no one when I say that there is a tendency in the United States to see politics as a morality play; that is, as a conflict between the “good guys” versus the “bad guys.” Nor will it shock anyone when I assert that this is what Watergate became.


            It might shock people when I say that Watergate was anything but a morality tale. That is, it was a tale of a guilty president seeking to survive politically; a tale where the president’s closest advisers, Haig and Buzhardt, were trying to get him out of office before their “sins” were exposed; and a tale of journalists, working with an anonymous source, seeking to udo a presidency surreptitiously or covertly, almost like the CIA.


            But despite its character, the power of morality tale scenario is attested to by the fact that President Nixon played along with it. That is why Nixon, virtually from the outset, denied any White House involvement in the Watergate burglary, denials that weren’t true, although he didn’t know that, and denials that would come back to haunt him, and even cost him his presidency.


            Think about it: What if Nixon had decided to treat the burglary for what it was, as a crime. That is, if he had treated it as simple, straightforward criminality. If he had done that, he wouldn’t have had to “stonewall” or “cover up.” This was the genius of John Mitchell’s recommendation that the White House adopt what was called “the hang out” strategy; that is, let “it” all hang out with the purpose of punishing those who were guilty of those crimes. “Sure,” Nixon could have said. “Some people in the White House committed crimes and they will be punished. But these criminals are just that, criminals, and they don’t indicate that my administration is defined by immorality, any more than the fact that there are criminals in the United States means that it is defined by immorality.”


            But let me broaden our concern with this tendency toward moralization. After the attacks of 9/11, a debate occurred, ever so briefly, about whether to treat the attacks as criminal acts and their perpetrators as criminals or to treat the attacks as acts of war and the perpetrators as terrorists. The latter view prevailed of course as we all know. But if the former had prevailed, then what would have followed would have been investigations and then trials. As the latter prevailed, what followed was wars, torture, and assassinations. One may ask if we are better off as a result of the moralizing those attacks leading to the war on terror.


But there is even another consideration, viz., the question as to whether understanding the world in moral terms clarifies or obfuscates the human condition? Does understanding the world in moral terms shed light or darkness? [Remember: Vice President Cheney, who viewed the attacks in moral terms, said we had to go “the dark side” as a response.] Does understanding the world in moral terms enable people to see or blind them to “real reality?”


These are or should be serious questions, that is, questions whose answers have significant implications. For example, Aristotle seems to have ascended from a moral view of the world to a political view, as his Nicomachean Ethics ends by pointing to his Politics. Plato might be said to have ascended from a moral view to a philosophic view of the human condition. And Machiavelli might be said to have ascended – or should we say descended – from a moral view of the world to a “realistic” view. So perhaps it would be worthwhile to reconsider our moralistic views, not only of Watergate but of politics generally.