Thursday, April 15, 2010

Big Bad Wolf

Ranger Bumper Sticker of the Day

I smell like I sound. I'm lost and I'm found
And I'm hungry like the wolf
--Hungry Like the Wolf, Duran Duran

The girls smiles. One eyelid flickers.
She whips a pistol from her knickers.
She aims it at the creature's head
And bang bang bang, she shoots him dead
--Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf,
Roald Dahl

In his column, "Why We Should Worry About Violent Political Rhetoric," L.A. Times columnist Gregory Rodriguez say:

"The recent spike in violent political rhetoric coupled with last week's arrest of two men who threatened the lives of two Democratic House members has a lot of commentators worried about a surge in domestic political terrorism.

If two congressmen were to be killed, how would this be an act of terrorism? IF? How has terrorism become such a bogeyman? Terrorism: The ubiquitous Big Bad Wolf of Modernity. Terrorism is the most overused and misunderstood word in the modern American lexicon.

Every crime against the U.S. is not terrorism. The assassination of John F. Kennedy was not terrorism, though by Mr. Rodriguez's rendering, it would have been. No -- both the JFK killings and that of any congressmen would be political assassinations. Which by the way is exactly what President Obama has recently authorized U.S. operatives to do, by executive order.

Why are the death threats against the congressmen perceived as political terrorism, while Obama's actions are a legitimate exercise of presidential power?

Assassination is a crime, even when authorized by a President.


  1. jim-

    As much as I hate to say it, fear is a major player in the US. Not just fear of specifics, but a sort of generalized fear. Since 1941, the culture has had a successions of "Evils" to confront. Hitler, The Red Menace, Big Government, Terror. Not problems to solve, but "Evil" to defeat. "Evil" and "Fear" have become so ingrained in our US culture that I truly think it has become generalized in segments of the population and ingrained in our semantics. I am beginning to see the Tea Party as a culture of generalized fear. Not necessarily high level specific reasons to be fearful, but just fear and distrust in general.

    The crap you cite seems to be consistent with the irrationality of the generalized fear of which I speak, and perhaps just a symptom of same.

  2. Al,
    I see the T party as being a natural extension of the Know Nothings.
    Yes, i am a crap citer.

  3. Well, if we excuse the current definition of terrorism which has supplanted the traditional definition, and look objectively at the subject...these guys were engaged in a conspiracy to assassinate political figure, or more.
    Back in the good O'l days conspiracy was a beautiful thing to nail someone on...all a prosecutor had to do was show collaboration and voila...conspiracy...felony, spend sometime in the big house doing laundry for bubba.
    Today, though, criminal activity has been supplanted by the new definition of "terrorism" which has become the currency of politicians who are trying to "galvanize" popular sentiment in a particular direction.
    Hence, the Republicans use it to scare the shit out of their base 28%...each, and everytime they mount the stage.
    But herein is the issue that we must all come to accept...terrorism has lost its meaning, its definition, and is overly used.
    I suspect we would all truly shit ourselves into inactive paralysis if we had the same terroristic activities that plague the Middle East occur here in the US.
    We toy with a word that we should be more careful with.

  4. Interesting thread. Sheer's comment as to our definition of "terrorism" gets to the heart of the matter since one needs to always start with a clear and shared definition in order to discuss any subject effectively.

    Btw, did ya'll know that the US State Department changed their official definition of "terrorism" in 1984 . . . making it more ambiguous . . . ?

    Notice the original 1983 definition on page 3 along with modified definition by the author, as well as 1984 definition on page 18, Footnote 1. Notice where the ambiguity lies . . .

    From a strategic theory perspective, there is no difference between "terrorism" and "violent coercion" (see Thomas Schelling, "Arms and Influence", page 17), that is it is a method not a target, and not restricted to any certain type of political entity. Historically (and probably even currently) the main users of terrorism are state entities . . . Clausewitz comments that only "revolutionary governments" can use terror effectively.

  5. Seydlitz,
    Yes, Sheerahkhan is on target.
    When i was in the Terrorism counter action arena, as a Training Specialist, i was amazed at all of the different definitions of terrrorism, and they were all official definitions.
    It seemed that every agency had a righteous definition.
    Add to this that the Nato allies each have their own definitions and it's a real treat to try to figure out what we're even discussing.
    US Code used to treat Terrorism as a crime, as do our Nato allies. As an example the French apprehended/arrested/convicted the Jackel Carlos. Rameriz was much more dangerous than any US citizen hiding in Yemen, but yet the French never put a hit out on him.
    We have sorta buryied the concept of State sponsored Terror.

  6. You guys can imagine my daily frustration. Do you have any idea how often I have to deal with people who consider the "War on Terror" to be a vital national interest? (For the record, the GWOT is over, we are no longer allowed to refer to it in awards and evals, it is now called "OCO", overseas contingencies operations).

    In the community I work in, our leadership considers the purpose of our very existence to find and kill "terrorists". Why you ask? "Because".(nothing follows) You should see the dirty looks I get when I question the value of such actions and the validity of the strategy. Then I like to pop the question why we aren't on other nations' "Terrorist list", basically posing the question at what point do we become what we are fighting against. Usually the answer sounds more like Sarah Palin's talking points and it never evolves into anything that I would consider discourse, just repeating of rhetoric. It gets frustrating.

  7. bg-

    Usually the answer sounds more like Sarah Palin's talking points and it never evolves into anything that I would consider discourse, just repeating of rhetoric.

    Sadly, this has become a common pattern in American discourse. We almost have to "retrain" before going to the States to be able to deal with it. It actually is more intellectually offensive when you have been fortunate to be insulated from it most of the time.

    We recently did a 2 week cruise where a little less than half the passengers were Americans. Most were "talking point" machines. Was kind of sad, but then, it was great interacting with the non-American passengers (mostly South Americans) and learning from them about their cultures, and seeing their sincere interest in American culture.

    I truly think that the mono-chronic nature of American culture leads to a form of intellectual in-curiosity. It is easy to become very focused (as in tunnel vision) when a culture is task oriented and linear in use of time.

    In polychronic cultures, the very nature of the way people easily jump between tasks, eschew a linear regimentation of time and embrace relationships is more open to intellectual curiosity. If you really value relationships, as is a significant aspect of polychronic culture, then you have to have a more exocentric than egocentric worldview.

    Am I rambling?

  8. The UN famously tried to come up with a universal definition of "terrorism" and failed - everyone wanted to carve out exemptions for their favored violent actors. A lot of the problem is perception - how violent actions are perceived by differing groups - and there will never be agreement on that. There is also the problem that most terrorism definitions are based on the intent of the "terrorist" and intentions are not always obvious and are, of course, just as subject to differing perceptions as anything else.

    So terrorism is a nice kind of play-doh - a word that can be molded and used to fit one's own biases. We see a lot of that in political discourse these days unfortunately.

  9. BG,
    good luck.
    As a young SF CPT in 5th grp rvn, i was branded communist b/c i used to say things like-it's their country.....
    i hope your career will be more successful than was mine.

  10. jim, funny, I found myself in Iraq (a young CPT in 5th SFG as well) saying the same thing. But that went over very well, "It's their country" is another way of saying, "let them deal with it their way, and let's not judge", which is another way of saying, "Let's turn these muj over to the Iraqis and pretend we never saw them, and we can be assured we will never see them again..."

  11. Al-

    You're not rambling. . . but, I'll have to think for a while my response. Anything you'd like to add?


    I can understand your frustration.

    For the sake of comparison, consider the situation we had back in "the bad ole days" of the 1980s Cold War. There we were in Berlin, looking like it would last a hundred years and most the troops and even officers didn't really understand why we were in Berlin and what it meant. It was all very abstract for them, but for us - the actual "cold war soldiers" those who would have remained in Berlin till the end - it was clear, the mission was clear. The mission was survival. Surviving in an acceptable form the result of a situation way beyond our nation's control . . . the manner in which the Second World War had ended . . . the confrontation with the USSR . . . the division of Europe . . . for us in Berlin specifically the GDR. That the Soviet Union would implode in 1991 nobody saw coming even as late as 1990.

    So in "the bad ole days" there was a certain rancid connection between "bureaucracy" and "stupidity", far too many on our side didn't take the threat seriously enough, or couldn't begin to comprehend the complexity of it all. I would think the other side learnt that from the encounter: something to remember.

    In 1992 of course we have the beginning of a whole different complexus of policy purposes . . . the making of empire.


    I always gain something from both your posts/comments. Thanks.

  12. Seydlitz:
    You're not rambling. . . but, I'll have to think for a while my response. Anything you'd like to add?

    There has been a significant amount of research on monochronic vs polychronic worldview/behavior. A lot is from the American monochronic business efficiency viewpoint of time management and misses the cultural emphasis on relationships and their importance in many polychronic cultures. In a relationship oriented culture, human interaction is important, and one liner simplistic pronouncements is not interaction. In many ways, it is very similar to early childhood egocentric behavior as described by Piaget:

    According to Piaget, a preoperational child has difficulty understanding life from any other perspective than his own. In this time, the child is very me, myself, and I oriented.

    Egocentrism [ 2 ] is very apparent in the relationship between two preschool children. Imagine two children are playing right next to each other, one playing with a colouring book and the other with a doll. They are talking to each other in sequence, but each child is completely oblivious to what the other is saying.

    Julie: "I love my dolly, her name is Tina"

    Carol: "I'm going to colour the sun yellow"

    Julie: "She has long, curly hair like my auntie"

    Carol: "Maybe I'll colour the trees yellow, too"

    Julie: "I wonder what Tina's eyes are made of?"

    Carol: "I lost my orange crayon"

    Julie: " I know her eyes are made of glass."

    These types of exchanges are called "collective monologues". This type of monologue demonstrates the "egocentrism" of children's thinking in this stage.

    According to Piaget, egocentrism of the young child leads them to believe that everyone thinks as they do, and that the whole world shares their feelings and desires. This sense of oneness with the world leads to the child's assumptions of magic omnipotence. Not only is the world created for them, they can control it.

    If, as much of the literature theorizes, the US is primarily a monochronic culture, then relationship is less important than tasks, and dialogue is less important than we tend to claim. Rather, especially in US political discourse, forms of collective monologue take place and are claimed to be dialogue. There is nothing, in my mind, more egocentric than one liner proclamations that are expected to be accepted, without question, as compelling "arguments".

    I could go on at great length about this general topic, but will spare the crew for now. I have commented on numerous occasions that I thought GWB displayed a form of arrested development - much like a "pre-operational child"?

  13. Avaitor47,

    Yes, too much of what parades as dialog is actually "collective monologue".

    We are good at that in the U.S. -- we do sequential monogamy, and value linear, monochronic goal-oriented behavior of all kinds. We aggregate this and call it "engagement", but we are actually dégagé (in the negative sense.)

    As for Piaget, I read an interesting challenge to his assertion of pre-12 year old egocentrism this weekend in the NYT. It seems compassionate philosophical reasoning can be taught: The Examined Life, Age 8.

    It is hopeful, as I see far too many egocentric adults. Compassion is not a logical outgrowth of aging.

  14. Piaget referred to four to seven year olds' ego-centrism when he spoke of collective monologue. What is of most value in his work is the identification of the stages through which he hypothesizes the child passes as it develops intellectually and socially. He also said that not everyone achieves the ability to reason abstractly.

    I offered Piaget solely because he so elegantly describes collective monologue and ascribes some egocentric roots. Since this so strongly resembles much of the political and social talking (I cannot elevate it to dialog) in the US, I could not resist posting it. I often wonder if the wide spread dysfunction is linked to culturally encouraged ego-centrism or arrested development.

    Thanks for the NYT link. A respected colleague of mine at U.T (Chair of Early Childhood Development Dept) was very impressed with Lippman until she heard a paper by a fellow from Johns Hopkins that really made her question some of the "learning readiness" theorems in vogue at the time (circa 1980) and similar to what I see Wartenburg offering. Going into that here would be way off topic and too lengthy.

  15. aviator,

    Educators (like many professionals) always have some pet theory up their sleeves. Recently, it was NCLB, which is being roundly trounced now.

    Deborah Tannen notes that children as young as 7 can transcend collective monolog, disputing Piaget. He's foundational, but he has been negated in some areas. The article challenged Piaget's assertion that "children under 12 were not capable of abstract reasoning." Per the article, that seems reasonable.

    As you note, the stages are helpful, but not everyone hits the roadmarks. Per your question on the current state of debate:

    "I often wonder if the wide spread dysfunction is linked to culturally encouraged ego-centrism or arrested development"

    ... I wonder if these are linked states, for our ego-centrism keeps us in a state of the perpetual juvenile; people age, but do not necessarily mature. Our culture allows for a lot of aged Peter Pans (men and women).

    Farmville, anyone?

  16. Lisa : Deborah Tannen notes that children as young as 7 can transcend collective monolog, disputing Piaget.

    Piaget placed his so called "pre-operational stage" at 4 to 7 years, so there is no real dispute there.

    However, more important, at least to me, is the increased level of collective monologue, regardless of the underlying theories, amongst the population, to include our elected representatives.

    "The Party said it. I believe it. That settles it", is not as uncommon as one would hope, casting severe doubts on the intellectual maturity and reasoning ability of significant portions of the population.

  17. bg,
    i'm gonna channel Charlie here.
    If you turn over anyone to the host nation then you are responsible for their treatment. Regardless of what country that you are in.
    I'm not sure that we were saying the same thing when saying -it's their country.

  18. Loneliness can drive people to do things they normally wouldn't be attracted to someone who would use them like a dish rag, and dispose of them as such when finished.
    Fear acts much in the same way.
    Scared people act irrationally.
    Think about this.
    Car runs off road, and lands in the river.
    Several factors are involved.
    River is filled with water, and the care is sinking.
    Inside the care is filling with cold river water, thus compressing available breathable air to a very small point.
    The doors will not open while there is air inside the car due to the pressure differential.
    The average person will maintain a certain level of calm...till the water starts touching the waistline...then there is an urgency to get out.
    Getting out becomes the overriding, overarching psychic scream that is hounding the functional parts of the brain.
    The person is now approaching freakout mode and is attempting to get to freedom...i.e. the surface of the river.
    Now, we can dispassionately say, "well, maintain your calm, roll the window down, allow pressure equilibrium to occur, make sure you a good gulp of air, and soon as equilibrium occurs, bail out. Voila, the surface awaits your arrival."
    But in the heat of the moment, that average person, who has never, ever thought or given credence to driving into the river is now chin deep in water...and their mind is screaming at them to find more air.
    I have found that people, when scared shitless, will often default to a "Me" centric meme and screw everyone else. A group of scared people will adopt a "us" centric meme, and anyone outside that "us" will be considered "disposable," or "the enemy."
    Which is exactly what the Republicans have done...they have shepherd the willing into a "us" centric theme, and anyone outside, e.g. anyone who disagrees with them, as the enemy, and of course, in their world existentialist mentality, one never negotiates with the enemy.

    Which is why the US is so thoroughly fucked inside and out...and why this mess should not be squelched, or suppressed.
    This problem we have must be allowed to come to fruition so that everyone, and I mean everyone can see for themselves to what end this mentality that is being promoted brings a nation too.
    I personally think that if the United States can survive this moment intact...we will have overcome a major hurdle in our national development and growth.
    Operative word for us though is "survive."

  19. Aviator says,

    "The Party said it. I believe it. That settles it", is not as uncommon as one would hope, casting severe doubts on the intellectual maturity and reasoning ability of significant portions of the population.

    This an indictment of our entire socialization process. Outliers are suspect; go along to get along; "Jesus loves me this I know/'cause the Bible tells me so/....

    I believe there is a false recourse to an idea of intellectually purity among those who adhere mindlessly to doctrine, for they are the true believers and their faith never waivers. Of course, I do not think an unexamined affiliation goes very deep, so their conviction is paper thin, hence their anger. They are paper tigers following tin men.

    I believe people seek ease and comfort in an uncertain world. Anxiety can be drummed out via various addictions (there's a reason 30+% of us are obese) and affiliations.

    There are a lot of scary things outside of the cave. "Hey -- how 'bout them 'Noles?!"

  20. sheerahkahn says,

    "I personally think that if the United States can survive this moment intact...we will have overcome a major hurdle in our national development and growth"

    I agree with your me/us-centric read, but are you suggesting that those who buy in stand ready to scrap their security blanket? How will they gain this enlightenment?

    I mean, I totally wish it were so, but I don't see how you envision this happening (?)

  21. Had an interesting chat with a neighbor the other day about the current financial mess. He said, "We elected the guys that caused this". I said, "But both major parties had a hand in it. PASOK (center left) started the low tax, excess spending, and New Democracy (center right) simply raised the level of it. Did you vote for PASOK and then ND?"

    His response, "We, the Greek people elected the MPs that caused this mess. Doesn't matter how I voted, the electios are decided by how we voted. Isn't that what we accept when we are a democracy? If you accept the notion that the majority rules, then even if you voted for the minority party, by accepting democracy, you accept who wins." His words mirror what most of our Greek friends have said. Few have referred to the legendary "Them".

    Well, he had a point, and as I thought about it, the real, general reaction to the austerity programs (symbolic and ever present strikes aside) of the Greek people has been, "We let this go on and now we have to carry the burden." Poll after poll has affirmed this attitude. They are not happy with the mess they let themselves get in, but they know they have to bear the burden of getting out of it.

    A while back, FDChief or Publius, IIRC, referred to the GOP attempting to nullify the election of Clinton and/or Obama. There was the ridiculous and never ending investigations of Clinton, and, more recently, the "Birthers". In short, a rejection of democracy when the results aren't what "we" want. Sarah and McCain spoke of "real America", as contrasted with those who don't agree with them. There is a significant limitation on who "We" are in American discourse and perception, and it is becoming more exclusionary every day. Is it any wonder that political strategists call upon fear to create a common bond to build enough membership in a "We" to get their hacks elected?

    I wish I had more optimism about the direction in which our culture is devolving. Lacking a major systemic shock, such as a depression or World War to refocus the population on a more universal "We", things can only get worse.

  22. Al,
    The main culprits in the melt down were NOT elected.

  23. Aviator says,

    "I wish I had more optimism about the direction in which our culture is devolving

    I don't know that's healthy to have optimism about a cultural devolution :)

    Then again, you should be very optimistic about the inexorable fact of that prognostication. Sheerah is hopeful for a switchback, but I'm not sure how far one can walk down the road of fear before there is no return.

    I'd still like to hear him discourse on his idea of "survival of this moment" -- what does that imply, for now now and the aftermath?

  24. jim-

    I was using the average Greek's view of the Greek public sector financial crisis to give an example of their view of democracy, and the acceptance of everyone's being responsible for an election and the government it produced, not just those who voted one way or another. As I said, if you ascribe to majority rule, then you accept the results of same.

    There is not a private sector melt down here, and probably won't be. Private sector debt as a percentage of GDP and household income in most of continental Europe is miniscule, and more so when compared to the US. Thus, the Greek government is not having to take on debt to absorb private sector profligate private sector borrowing, as is the case in the US. The "crisis" is of and by the public sector alone, and my neighbor so elegantly pointed out that a citizen of a democracy cannot refuse responsibility for the results of choosing democracy as the desired form of government just because he doesn't like how it turned out. As we say in the US, it goes with the turf.