Friday, June 30, 2023

The Road to Savagery

 

The Road to Savagery

Peter Schultz

 

            The road to savagery passes through virtue. Witness: Dick Cheney claimed that after the 9/11 attacks the US and its elites would have to “go to the dark side,” that is, would have to embrace savagery in order to combat Islamic fundamentalists. Implicitly, Cheney claimed such actions were indications of America’s virtue; that is, that being a virtuous nation required that the US act savagely.

 

            There’s actually nothing unique or even odd here because savagery – homicides and massacres – is often thought of as virtuous. And Cheney was, hence, quite proud of his embrace of savagery and tried to shame those who criticized his embrace of “the dark side” as “un-American.” And, generally, Americans seemed to be proud of the savagery that characterized the response to the 9/11 attacks, drawing fortitude from their commitment to such actions. Because Americans see themselves as virtuous, they are drawn toward savagery, as is Cheney.

 

            So then, questions arise: What exactly is virtue? That is, if virtue leads to savagery, what is it? If the virtuous are capable of, even drawn to savagery, are they genuinely virtuous at all? Or is virtue just a fa├žade, a false front, behind which hides “inhuman cruelty?” And does inhuman cruelty – and not virtue – account for whatever political greatness exists in the world? Doesn’t the American experience, insofar as its greatness depended upon a savage slavery, suggest that this is so? It would seem so. So, be careful before wishing for political greatness – e.g., by creating “new world orders” or eradicating evil in the world as both George Bushes advocated – as such greatness comes at a very high price.

Monday, June 12, 2023

On Friendship

 

On Friendship

Peter Schultz

 

            In her book Aristotle and the Philosophy of Friendship, Lorraine Smith Pangle writes the following on Montaigne’s and Aristotle’s understanding of friendship as perhaps the greatest good:

 

“But perhaps the very core of friendship’s goodness has nothing to do with comfort and assistance, and lies in the simple, irreducible sweetness of intimacy itself, to which Montaigne directs our attention and which Aristotle also acknowledges. The sweetness is the sweetness of expanded aliveness, an expanded sense of being, that comes with knowing and cherishing, with being known and cherished, with the vicarious but vivid experience of another’s being, and the enhanced awareness of one’s own. Such intimacy, in its peak moments, is always in some degree physical….and is always riveted in the present moment. Past, present, and all distractions melt away; one is simply there, with one’s whole being, with another, with his whole being.” [pp. 70-71]

 

            Friendship as a pathway to being, one’s own and that of another. And I wonder if Jane Austin, for example, isn’t writing about friendship or love in this sense, against which the glory of the British monarchy, its aristocracy, and its empire loses its glow.

Saturday, June 3, 2023

Musings Aroused by Triple Course

 

Musings Aroused by Triple Cross

Peter Schultz

 

            Here are some musings that were aroused in me by the book by Peter Lance, Triple Cross: How Bin Laden’s Master Spy Penetrated the CIA, the Green Berets, and the FBI.

 

            Basic question: Why did the FBI, for example, have such a difficult time “connecting the dots” regarding al Qaeda, bin Laden, and Ali Mohamed? Because the FBI created those “dots” in the first place. Creating “dots” was how the FBI did its job and, of course, as dots, they are disconnected, as intended. Why create disconnected dots? Because that’s how the FBI as a bureaucracy operates. It creates “cases” which are in fact abstractions that consist of some facts. Turning Ali Mohamed into “a case file” requires abstracting from the “real,” or a more complete Mohamed. His true significance is easily lost sight of once he has been turned into “a case.” And his connections to others, his connections to al Qaeda tend to disappear or be overlooked.

 

            The FBI made, for example, Martin Luther King, Jr. into a case. It did that in order to be able to keep eyes on him, to watch him, and catalogue his actions. Of course, King’s relationship to American society and American history, and especially to the black community, disappeared or was lost sight of by proceeding this way. He became “a dot,” and though attempts were made to connect this “dot” to his social and political context, that is, to find out if he was a communist, those dots were never successfully connected. Once dots are created, it is difficult then to connect them, primarily because the dots were created to be disconnected so they may be seen more clearly.

 

            Further, the purpose of creating “cases” is to solve them, which usually means to use them to arrest people and then convict them. When this happens, success is declared, which is what one FBI agent declared upon the conviction of those involved in the Bojinka trial. FBI special agent Pellegrino declared: “It’s over. We won!” The FBI had been successful. But apparently, Pellegrino didn’t appreciate that the FBI had actually “won” very little because other members of al Qaeda, other “dots,” would replace those who had been convicted and the war against the United States would go on. Just as, of course, it did in Kenya, Tanzania, Yemen, and eventually on 9/11. What Pellegrino lost sight of, because in his mind he was dealing with “dots” and “cases,” was that those “dots” that were successfully dealt with in “a case" were connected to an organization. That is, they weren’t just dots, and the case was an abstraction that actually helped hide “real reality.” By winning the case, the United States was not any closer to winning the war against al Qaeda. In other words, the US could win its cases but still lose the war to al Qaeda, just as the US could win battle after battle in Iraq, and still not win the war.  

Friday, June 2, 2023

Being and Politics

 

Being and Politics

Peter Schultz

 

Is life about “being?” Do humans search for “being” (or the beautiful, or the good)? Do humans search for “being” via politics, and thus may be described as “political animals?” Does this help explain the intensity of politics in that humans equate their politics with their very being, as expressions of their “being”? Being “un-American” is about the worst thing an American can be charged with.

 

Alternative search for being is by way of “Jerusalem.” Hence, “Athens” v. Jerusalem. Is “Athens” superior because it recognizes the legitimacy of “Jerusalem’s” search for being, whereas “Jerusalem” denies the legitimacy of “Athens” search and the conflict with it? Some in Jerusalem’s camp recognize the legitimacy of that conflict, Maimonides, Alfarabi. Zionism does not, being a political expression of being. It is as inadequate or dangerous as any other political expression of being.

 

The Americans offered the Vietnamese peace, prosperity, freedom, and democracy but did so at the expense of their being Vietnamese. But as Vietnamese history illustrates, being Vietnamese, for example, by resisting Chinese invasions, trumps peace and even prosperity. In other words, if the price of peace, prosperity, freedom, and democracy is to give up one’s being, then that price is too high – even in Kansas. And some Muslims say the same thing to Americans. But Americans don’t hear this because they are unaware that life is about being [by the way, that’s a philosophical problem, ala’ Ms. Cherry]. Moreover, if this is so, then the Enlightenment project is doomed one way or another because it denies that life is about being [which brings us To Where the Wasteland Ends and the single vision].

Thursday, June 1, 2023

On Being Political

 

On Being Political

Peter Schultz

 

            Aristotle argued that human beings are political animals. And this means, I think, that humans express their being politically. “American” is a political expression of being, which seems to us a weird notion.

 

            But notice human behavior. In a once well-read book, What’s the Matter with Kansas?, the question was asked because Kansans were voting in ways that conflicted with their interests, especially their economic interests. But why were they doing so? I would argue because they were voting as they thought Americans should vote, thereby they were voting to be Americans. So, if their economic interests conflicted with their “American-ness”, and being political animals and not economic animals, they voted against their economic interests deliberately, if not quite consciously. And, so, if by pointing out that Kansans were voting against their economic interests, you think that this news will change votes, you are mistaken. Political appeals will always trump economic political appeals.

 

            So will political appeals always trump philosophic appeals. Jefferson wrote that “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” but it wasn’t those truths that led to the American revolution. It was the budding American nationalism; that is, it was the emerging American “being-ness.” Americans were becoming or had become “a people,” distinct from the British people, deserving of their own political order, and were even willing to engage in treasonous war for that American “being-ness.”

 

            So, the promises of peace and prosperity, of freedom and democracy pitched to the Vietnamese by Americans in order “to win their hearts and minds” had to fail because such things can’t compare to being Vietnamese. The Vietnamese had been expressing themselves, expressing their being politically against the Chinese for centuries, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. But being Vietnamese trumped the peace and the prosperity promised by both the Chinese and the Americans. Because the Americans did not understand this, they could not understand why they were doomed to lose that war.