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Shifting Paradigms in the Global War on Terrorism: Getting past analogy and focusing on actuality - The Ornery American


Shifting Paradigms in the Global War on Terrorism:
Getting past analogy and focusing on actuality.
By Kendal Brian Hunter December 5, 2006

"The first qualification for judging any piece of workmanship from a corkscrew to a cathedral is to know what it is-what it was intended to do and how it was meant to be used. After that has been discovered the temperance reformer may decide that the corkscrew was made for a bad purpose, and the communist may think the same about the cathedral. But such questions come later. The first thing is to understand the object before you: as long as you think the corkscrew was meant for opening tins or the cathedral for entertaining tourists you can say nothing to purpose about them." C. S. Lewis (A Preface To "Paradise Lost," 1)

"Nothing is ever what it seems, but everything is exactly what it is." - Buckaroo Banzai

In the Global War on Terrorism (GWT) there are two prevailing paradigms. The first templette is the World War II Model. This is crystallized by movies such as Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, Saints and Soldiers, Flag of our Fathers, and the book The Greatest Generation. This is the view that is adopted by the right and works within the moral framework of an apocalyptic Good and Evil.

The second templette is the Vietnam War Model. This is articulated by the films Fahrenheit 9/11, The US vs. John Lennon, V for Vendetta, and the book Catch-22 and the film and TV series M*A*S*H. This is the model adopted by the left. It notably includes the three Johns-John McCain, John Kerry, and John Murtha, all who are veterans of that conflict. The operating word for this framework is "quagmire."

Both of these models are flawed.

The first reason is that they both sacramentalize history. That is, when a right-winger has photo-ops of American flags over battlefields, or shows the downing of the Saddam Hussein statues reminiscent of the dismantling of the statues of Lenin or King George III, he is engaging in a ritualization of an historic act. When a left-winger chants "quagmire" or prays for a withdrawal in Iraq akin to the ignoble Fall of Saigon, he is sacramentally unifying a present situation with a past event.

That is, both are essentially doing what a Christian does with the ordinances or sacraments of the Church. For those that immerse, baptism is such a sacramentalization of Christ's baptism and Atonement:

"Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection." (Romans 6:3-5 KJV, emphasis added.)

The same thing applies to the Lord's Supper: "For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come." (1 Corinthians 11:26 KJV)

Both of these Christian sacraments involve what James Frazer called "sympathetic magic." (And do not get too hung up on this technical anthropological term that I am forced to use for academic purposes-I personally believe there is proper and improper sacramentalization; I am criticizing the second.) He explained:

"If we analyze the principles of thought on which magic is based, they will probably be found to resolve themselves into two: first, that like produces like, or that an effect resembles its cause; and, second, that things which have once been in contact with each other continue to act on each other at a distance after the physical contact has been severed. The former principle may be called the Law of Similarity, the latter the Law of Contact or Contagion. From the first of these principles, namely the Law of Similarity, the magician infers that he can produce any effect he desires merely by imitating it: from the second he infers that whatever he does to a material object will affect equally the person with whom the object was once in contact, whether it formed part of his body or not." (The Golden Bough, 12-13, emphasis added. Cf. CWHN 4:374 and Evidences and Reconciliations, 35)

A similar thing applies to the way politicians frame the discussion of the GWT. The right with conjure up (pun intended) the images of our last popular foreign war in their speeches and dialogues, and the left similarly with use the word "quagmire" not as a metaphor, but as an incantation. It is all an attempt to overwrite the past on the preset, or as Frazer put it, use the Law of Similarity to connect the GWT to either WWII or Vietnam.

Sacramentalizing history, aside from the religious and thaumaturgic aspects, is an important process of socialization. We see this every Independence Day when we dress up in tricorn hats and powdered wigs, or attend Renaissance Fairs. We are revitalizing and more importantly personalizing the events of the past. By dabbling in "chronic anachronism," we have a better sense of the present.

However, this sacramentalization or cross-identification leads to the second problem: The Global War on Terrorism is neither World War II nor Viet Nam. Although there are some similarities between the GWT and WWII and the GWT and Vietnam (as there are similarities between WWII and Vietnam), they are not the same thing. It is the logical problem of distributed middle-just because two things share some elements in common, it does not necessarily follow that they share all things in common.

This is why Ayn Rand emphasized proper "rational" and "non-contradictory identification" (For the New Intellectual, 115, 126), and what Marcus Aurelius meant when he wrote, "See what things are in themselves." (Mediations XII:10). The focus or use of analogies hampers us from seeing the actualities, or as Aurelius stated it, "things . . . in themselves." We see our paradigm-WWII or Vietnam-and not the GWT.

A practical application of misapplying paradigms occurs when the Left says that WWII lasted X years, and we have been in Iraq for an equal amount of time. As explained, this argument is logically invalid: the dynamics-the undistributed middle-of WWII and the GWT are different, and to draw a strict analogy between the two ignored these differences. We are focusing on the analogy as opposed to the actuality.

We need to get past these analogies (the basis for that sympathetic magic and sacramentalization) in the GWT and focus on the crucial actualities. This is not a comprehensive list, but I see two areas of paradigm-shifting and proper identification, the actualities that are fogged by analogy and sacramentalization.

First, we need to develop sensitivity to the nature of economic-cultural shifts. In The Third Wave, Alvin Toffler observed that the US Civil War was a shift from the First Wave or agrarian economy to a Second Waves industrial economy. It was a "bloody, protracted war between the defenders of the agricultural past and the partisan of the industrial future." (The Third Wave, 23). The GWT involves a similar but larger shift-not from a First Wave to a Second Wave economy , but from a First Wave agrarian to a Third Wave post-industrial information age. That is quite a jarring leap of economies!

Second, there is the crush of cultures. During WWII, we knew that behind the culture of the Nazis was the German culture of Goethe and Mozart. When we fought the Soviets, behind the culture of Communism was the Culture of Russia, Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky. However in the GWT, we do not have an underlying and stronger foundational culture: what we see is what we get.

Additionally the culture of Islamic is not unified. Not only is there the central Sunni-Shiite division, but also the Wahhabi (radical traditionalists) and Nasserism (modern progressives) tensions. Moreover, there are the cultural divisions between the ethnic Arabs, Persians, and Afghanis, not to mention the American Muslims. So we are not dealing with one unified culture or one unified thing, but something that is very diverse. The confusion comes because the culture all goes under the solitary name of Islam.

One area of hope is that cultures can change. Will and Ariel Durant observed "On one point all are agreed: civilizations begin, flourish decline, and disappear-or linger as stagnate pools left by once life-giving streams." (The Lessons of History, 90). The question we have to ask ourselves is how we are going to transform and improve the Terror-sphere.

One way is to let the normal events of history run their course, akin to model in Robert Frost's poem "Fire and Ice". The other way is to follow the American Pattern-which is different than Americanizing people, as helpful that may be. In his 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation, George Wasting expressed gratitude "for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted."

This is a touchy area, since it requires a mutual and a cultural humility to recognize shortcoming and to change them. Additionally, as Thomas Jefferson noted in the Declaration of Independence:

"Prudence indeed, will dictate, that Governments long established, should not be changed for light and transient Causes; and accordingly all Experience hath shewn, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed."

But he added an important qualifier:

"But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security."

Innovations can be perilous. Will and Ariel Durant observed:

"Intellect is a vital force of history, but it can also be a dissolvent and destructive power. Out of every hundred new ideas, ninety nine or more will probably be inferior to the traditional responses which they propose to replace. No one man or woman, however brilliant or well informed, can come in one lifetime to such fullness of understanding as to safely judge and dismiss the customs or institutions of his or her society, for these are the wisdom of generations after centuries of experiment in the laboratory of history. . . "

"So the conservative who resists change is as valuable as the radical who proposes it-perhaps as much more valuable as roots are more vital than grafts. It is good that new ideas should be heard, for the sake of the few that can be used; but it is also good that new ideas should be compelled to go through the mill of objection and opposition. This is the trial heat that innovations must survive before being allowed to enter the human race. It is good that the old should resist the young, and that the young should prod the old. Out of this tension, as out of the strife of the sexes and the classes, comes a creative tensile strength, a stimulated development, a secret and basic unity and movement of the whole." (The Lessons of History, 35-36)

In the Mideast, there is the two-sided problem of tolerance and violence: there just is not enough of both. In the United States, if an Amish wants to live traditionally, we accommodate them. No only that (and as Harrison Ford and Weird Al prove) we celebrate them as equal and worthy members of America society. And other side, the Amish do not sabotage or engage in other acts of Ludditry against those of use who use technology. We have this mutual understanding and respect that is not present in the Mid-east. This needs to be developed, and it can, since behind all cultures are people, and each person has a human soul. That is where we as world should start.

Copyright © 2006 by Kendal Brian Hunter

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