Thursday, August 4, 2011

Politics Requires People (My Guest Post at Zenpundit)

Theodore Roosevelt, Osawatomie, Kansas, August 1910

Zenpundit has been kind enough to allow me to guest blog on his site. My post deals with zen's military theory concept of the superempowered individual which contrary to him I do not see as a potentially new "form of warfare", but rather a possible weapon in this age of ambiguous political purpose.

Let us hope that such a thing never leaves the realm of theory and remains simply theoretical.

Why this particular picture? Because the big idea behind all the crap we see today is the vaunted image of the individual triumphant over the "state", or "government", but actually the community. That's what it's all about, it's everybody out for themselves and grab what ya can. What they don't tell ya is that the "individuals" who count are all corporations, the real individuals with power. But then power, and the constant gross abuses of it, is something we choose to ignore.

TR's speech from August 1910 had his priorities straight imo . . .


  1. Nice post Seydlitz. But I have to ask you to remind me or give me a hint about your comment on Thucydides as I no longer have a copy. And at my age sometimes my memory fades - it has been many years since I have read of the Peloponnesian War. Who was the single individual in conflict with a collective that Thucydides described?

    Great speech by Colonel Roosevelt also. As you said he did have the right priorities. I love the first 20 seconds of one of his 1912 campaign speeches where he lambastes political parties for putting their own factional interests over those of the people.

  2. Hey seydlitz, I think you need a "not" in your next to the last paragraph, si?

    mike, I've always like the way the Modern Greek pronounces that great author.

    "thoo key thee thees"

    I wonder, would he be pleased to hear his name like that?


  3. mike-

    Thanks for taking the time to read it.

    Lebow's treatment of Thucydides barrow's from James Boyd White's "When Words Lose Their Meaning" which was published back in 1984 and is a great book. Lebow expands in it a bit, but the argument is essentially this: What was the main motive/what was Thucydides attempting to communicate with his book? Was it a simple history or something more? White/Lebow argue that the ancient Greek commander's intent was to show how first language and then Greek society eventually collapsed.

    "The speeches we have examined, from the Corcyrean debate to Athens' response at Camarina, mark successive stages in the deterioration of a culture of argument. The process is perhaps not inevitable, but it is natural, each stage containing the seeds of the next. The way the Athenians talk at Melos adn Camarina, for example, is an advanced version of the way Diodotus talked, which was in turn a development of the Athenian speech at Sparta, which itself built on materials in the original Corcyrean debates.
    But this is not the story of words alone, for as language deteriorates, so does everything else. At Melos the Athenians do not merely talk in an objectionable way; they also slaughter the people. The interaction between speech and conduct is one of Thucydides' deep themes, perhaps nowhere more explicit than in the famous excursus on the effects of the wave of civil wars that swept through Greece as a consequence of the Peloponnesian War, beginning with civil war successfully fomented by Corinth at Corcyra. Thucydides says that in these times even the meanings of words were altered. 'Irrational boldness was considered as manly loyalty to one's partisans; prudent delay as specious cowardice, moderation as a disquise for unmanliness, adn a well-rounded intelligence as a disqualification for action'. And along with the words, all standards of thought and behavior collapsed . . ."

    It's what happens with individual interest becomes insatiable within the community, so the interested parties subvert the language in order to better present their cause.

    Sound familiar?

  4. basil

    "not ignore"? Precious little evidence of that imo, those associated with this blog excluded of course . . .

  5. image of the individual triumphant not over the "state", or "government", but actually the community.

    This is what I referred to. Is this correct?


  6. basil-

    What I was trying to say was that what we are presented is the individual triumphant over the "state" or "government", but in reality what has happened is that the "ultimate individual" - in this, our world of masked power - the corporation, has smashed the cohesion of the community.

  7. Hmmm.

    Coupla thoughts.

    1. I think you did a fine job of placing these "SEI's" where they belong, as a sort of tactic or strategem on the scale of violent-means-of-affecting-social-disruption/change. They are really the "low end" of the politics-by-other-means methods, and less effective even though more direct due to their typical disconnection from any sort of mass-movement political agenda.

    2. I would suggest that these people CAN be part of a larger strategy, can act as either a mobilizing or antagonizing force for either a government or a non-governmental actor who uses the individual in a way to further the political ends of the larger group. One example of this would be OBL's utilization of his 19 Saudi stooges in 2001. The actual acts of terrorism were not in themselves effective (the collapse of the WTC was a true black swan, and I don't think bin Laden expected it or factored it into his geopolitical plans). But the acts were part of OBL's strategy to prod the U.S. into military action in the Middle East, which he believed would result in an increased tension and conflict between the East and West and a call for a new caliphate to resist the Western invaders. He' been wrong on that one, but events have played out more-or-less otherwise as his political strategy intended.

    3. And I would be careful making too much of the "rogue individual(s) overpower the state" meme. Our present media conglomerates are both historically ignorant and ridiculously sensationalist and have no idea that the acts of a single individual or a small group of individuals forcing a larger group of a government to react goes back to the hashassins and beyond. There is a continuum of political effects from violent acts that extends from single individuals to massed warfare; both CAN have strategic goals and tailor their tactical and operational plans to them...or not. I don't think there is a bright line there.

    I think the real issue is not so much that these individuals are really "superempowered" but that we are now living in a world where a) we are much more aware of the actions of peoples we do not and never will interact with through the electronic media, and b) that media has no sense of proportion, historical context, or, frankly, much sense. It has been freakishly poor at analyzing events, and tends to default to mawkish or ignorant human interest stories because it cannot perform a more complex analysis. So the actions of a Brevik or a Ulrike Meinhof become sensationalized because nobody can be bothered to remember Prinzip or Booth, who had actual political goals they thought to actuate through their tactical acts (tho I'd argue that most of the time these individuals, for all the reasons you discussed, get the political effects of the acts wrong).

    Although this perception has become the reality for most people it is still NOT reality...

  8. ...and as for corporatism, well...I think that we have become so saturated with brands (thanks again, media) that we don't "get" the economic power that wealthy individuals and wealthy corporations have and the political influence that power gets them. Our elites have learned from the bad old days of Rockefeller, Carnagie, and Hanna; they now prefer to work behind a reconnaissance and security screen of mobile lobbyists and false-flag journos and flaks.

  9. Thanks Chief for the food for thought. I'm a bit ambivalent about the SEI concept. On the one hand it is a potential new theory concept which has roots in the past, but at the same time it's kinda like reading Schelling on nuclear strategy, you have to be really cold blooded to get into all the details.

    I've attempted to accentuate certain characteristics in my ideal type. Isolation (due to opsec); the individual operating alone, that is not part of a political grouping; a massive, self-centered and sociopathic ego; and lack of any empathy. I get the impression that some of the commentators are really into the techno side of this thing, but that's not what really makes the SEI concept work, rather the human element imo.

    What I also find interesting is that we have a full reversal of what used to be known as simply "the end justifies the means". Before the political community knew exactly what the goal was (of Marxism, even anarchism) and that justified violence, at least for some. Here we have a shocking act of violence and afterwards the "end" supposedly making it all seem right, fat chance of that.

  10. Well, that's always been true, to some extent. We look at the assassination in Sarajevo today as the start of WW1, but at the time Princep was just hoping to fear up the Austro-Hungarians. One problem with a lot of assassins and violent whackos in general is that their motives are so confused by their own whacko-mess. They may be associated with some larger political movement but they're often too weird even for the most extreme outfits - look at McVeigh, look at the relationship between the European Left and the Baader-Meinhof people or the Brigati Rossi...

    I think this is very like the entire "Fourth Generation War" concept; someone(s) taking an aspect of warfare (propaganda war/individual assassins-killers) and trying to make it an "entirely new" theory of war. I'd buy that the media age has made the sort of things that McVeigh and Brevik did more visible, but the violent acts of individual cranks in peace, or rogue troopers in war, have been with us probably since the first australopithecus went bugnuts on his clan...I don't see this as a "new" facet of war but lust a side effect of the difference that the electronic media has made.