Saturday, April 20, 2013

Step Away from the Screen: Psychopolitics, the Boston Marathon Attack and Books

Big news stories, like the Boston Marathon attack, tend to make folks... obsess.

I get it.
I, too, am easily hypnotized by the unending stream of information provided by our amazingly futuristic media systems. It's easy to get sucked in, and then feel compelled to "keep up" with the updates like it's our duty.

Don't think you're intelligent just because you can rattle off the timeline of events in Boston, or stayed up late to watch a high-speed car chase. Knowing the latest gossip about the Tsarnaev brothers, Syria, or the Kardashian sisters, or whatever cable news is pushing, does NOT make you a productive citizen.

To be well-informed, and thus to construct your own opinions and share them with others, you have to know more than what is supplied by mass-media. Do your own research, be aware of what you're consuming and make use of the myriad information portals available.

I've learned to turn away from the screen(s) during major events, at the point when the facts are laid upon the table. At some point the news changes,  and the only "new" information consists of various people asking "why," speculating, grasping for answers. I turn away from this unending carousel of mumbo-jumbo and tap into a different sort of resource. I talk to people, and I turn to books for answers.

Following this latest American terrorist attack, I picked up my copy of Psychopolitics, gritted my teeth and made some pretty interesting discoveries...

I know, you don't have time to join the Audrey Book Club. Instead, snack on this selection from Psychopolitics. I've transcribed the closing statements of Chapter 2: War and Terrorism. The bolded bits are deserving of your attention, but I recommend reading the entire dialogue presented for a better understanding -- the big picture, if you will.

Psychopolitics: Conversations with Trevor Cribben Merrill by Jean-Michel Oughourlian
(Translated from the original French by Trevor Cribben Merrill, MSU Press, 2012)

Jean-Michel Oughourlian: "From a Girardian point of view, popular terrorism is situated in a presacrifical time: this time, violence has seeped inside the community, as was the case before the advent of the scapegoat mechanism. The enemy is everywhere and nowhere and is by definition impossible to identify before it acts. Soon everyone is the enemy of everyone else, and we find ourselves in a sacrificial crisis, with blind and undifferentiated violence spreading everywhere.

Contrary to conventional warfare, in which it was necessary to defeat the enemy and conquer his territory, at stake in the war against terrorism are the members of the population. Machiavelli, after having recognized cynically that 'men willingly change their ruler, hoping to fare better,' warned: 'no matter how powerful one's armies, in order to enter a country one needs the goodwill of the inhabitants.' Obviously, MacArthur had read Machiavelli, and Bush had not!

David Galula observes, for his part: 'What, then are the rules of counterrevolutionary warfare? ... Very little is offered beyond formulas - which are sound enough as far as they go - such as, "Intelligence is the key to the problem," or "The support of the population must be won."'

With terrorism, the mutual respect between soldiers, the respect of Napoleon at Austerlitz for the two emperors he was fighting, even the respect of soldiers like Montgomery and Eisenhower for a soldier like Rommel, is replaced by contempt.

The loyalist forces or the occupying army have contempt for the terrorists and do not apply the laws of war in dealing with them. During World War II, the Germans shot the resistance fighters, whom they deemed terrorist, without hesitation, while respecting the laws of war when dealing with military prisoners.

The resistance fighters (from their point of view), deemed 'terrorists' by the reigning government or the occupying forces, also have profound contempt for the soldiers of police against whom they are fighting and whom they qualify as 'forces of repression.'

In an insurrection or a war of the type now called terrorist, the noble feelings that predominated in conventional wars are replaced by degrading feelings: as we have just said, the enemies feel contempt for each other, but also hatred, resentment, envy, jealousy. From a Girardian point of view, in mimetic psychology, the enemy is viewed as a model-rival or even a model-obstacle, who inspires nothing but negative feelings.

To these feelings is added another that is even more deleterious: suspicion. The enemy is within, among us, he can be anybody, even my next-door neighbor. Therefore I have to be suspicious of everyone. Suspicion corrodes social bonds: the English were horrified to discover that the terrorists who blew up buses and subways were British citizens! They stoically bore the brunt of the V1 and V2 bombardments, which were far more destructive, but to discover that some of their fellow citizens , who lived among them, detested them, felt contempt for them, and wanted to kill them, scandalized them in the extreme.

After generalized suspicion comes fear. This fear is dirty, it plagues the population, and it is fear that gives to this type of conflict the name terrorism. The population may indeed become terrorized, and the government may adopt degrading measures in order to 'terrorize the terrorists,' and humanity retreats on every front. As Galula writes: 'Some counterrevolutionaries have fallen into the trap of aping the revolutionaries on both minor and major scales, as we shall show. These attempts have never met success.'

Insurrection, revolution, and now terrorism spring up on rotten ground: poverty, humiliation, resentment, frustration. Terrorism is a deferred reciprocal violence, that is to say a form of vengeance. The study of vindictive processes and vindicatory techniques teaches us that violence cannot erase vengeance; only money can: 'blood money.' That is why I hazard a hypothesis; terrorist violence, which is a terrible vengeance, is soluble in a single substance: money. Instead of spending astronomical sums on arms, let us spend instead on roads, hospitals, schools, houses, businesses, to create jobs and so on. Instead of financing war, let us purchase peace.

On this point, I am in complete agreement with Guy Sorman: 'In the year 328 before our era, and if the Roman historian Quintus Curtius is to be believed, Alexander the Great attempted in vain to conquer Afghanistan. After some savage but inconclusive battles, negotiations began between the tribal chiefs and the Greek general. The latter wanted to arrive in India. "Why are you fighting us?" said the Afghans, "when it would be enough to buy us off?"

What is extraordinary is that all of the values of war that we spoke of earlier, courage, heroism, and so on, are perverted by terrorism in the sense that terrorism is the result of humiliation, poverty, weakness. He who wishes to fight against terrorism is plagued by suspicion, poisoned by negative feelings: after suspicion, fear. He becomes in a certain sense paranoid, because he suspects everyone, is afraid of everyone.

TCM: If we go a step further, as Jacques Attali writes in a recent book, toward creating nanotechnologies and miniaturized nuclear weapons, we are going to mistrust the air that we breathe, the water that we drink, medicine, vegetables, the animals that we eat, we are going to mistrust literally everything, and life will become untenable. The terrorists must laugh when they see the most important figures of the West standing in line with their shoes in hand, undressing and getting dressed again before getting on the plane: it's ridiculous. (pages 21 -23)

My goal is to share philosophical theories with you, not to frighten or start an argument.

Buying into the fear won't help, but rational discussions with a firm grasp of the situation, and an open mind, might just make things better.

Making Things Better, my friends, is the goal.

It's the sole purpose of humanity.

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