June 20, 2009
By William Irwin Thompson
“We Irish think otherwise.” Bishop Berkeley
On Civil Wars and Uncivil Societies, June 20, 2009
Because the State is an impositional force, every state is in a condition of perpetual, if sometimes suspended, civil war. The body-politic is much like the body: there are always infectious bacteria within us that can make us sick or kill us, depending upon their numbers. As Paracelsus said, “The poison is the dose.”
Reflect on the history of any nation that has endured over centuries, and you will find that the histories of even the great nations of the world have been scarred by civil wars. Politics is not about reason and philosophical debate; it is about identity, and in this process of identification with one’s group, emotions are more important than the rule of law. From the primates to the Primate, group dynamics are based upon dominance and rankings—and the violent revenge of those whose ranking has lessened their sense of self-worth. It is the losers of the world who shout “Death to America” in the streets, or sullenly collect guns and conspiracy theory magazines and DVDS and dream of their millenarian moment.
When you listen to Rush Limbaugh or his wannabes rave, you realize that there is a vast populace in America that constructs its identity on hate. In the nineteenth century, this populace would be called nativist or “Know Nothing,” and its identity was emotionally based upon the hatred of foreigners–Catholics, Jews, or anyone that wasn’t of the white Protestant biblical amphictyony. Well, the Know Nothings haven’t gone away; they are still here screaming against Obama, or European socialism with its nightmares of socialized medicine and tight forms of gun control. Sometimes these individuals who have not made their mark in their society’s system of rankings can shift from sullen to angry and seek to upset the stability of the State through assassinations rather than elections.
So we Americans should look at Iran—or, for that matter, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, and Chad—through the prism of our own fragile stability. Iran would appear to be in a condition of suppressed civil war. Like Franco in Spain, the Ayotollah–Khomeini or Khamenei–represents a union of religion and militarism, and that is always a toxic combination, and one that has recently surfaced in the crusades of our Evangelicals at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. There appears to be a vast population of simple folk in Iran who are attracted to the simplifications of Ahmadinejad; but there also appears to be a vast population of sophisticated folk who would prefer a more cosmopolitan Iran with cultural links to Paris, London, New York, and Los Angeles. The question now is can the Ayotollahs continue to suppress civil war to use their monopoly of the instruments of force to keep their religious dictatorship in power? I doubt if even the Iranians know the answer to that question.
But looking at the global situation in the U.S.A., Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Chad, and the Sudan, it would appear that some larger force of cultural evolution is also at work. The territorial nation-state is losing its viability in electronically saturated societies. It can no longer suppress tribes, classes, or religions into a political unity based merely upon borders and a territorial identity. Through the power of new media, the territorial nation-state that had been built on what was then the new media of the railroad and the telegraph is being cooked by inflammatory media, and as it melts, its disparate elements of tribe, class, and religion rise to the surface in boiling ferment.
The cassette tape-recorder aided the Ayotollah Khomeini’s revolution, as his sermons in Paris on Fridays were distributed in Tehran on Saturdays. The Tsamizat Xerox machine helped to break down the bureaucracy of the Soviet Union, just as TV helped to end the Viet Nam War and White Supremacy in the South. The Internet financed Obama’s campaign to become the first popularly elected African-American President. And now all these media, aided by Twittering cell phones and Blackberries, are heating up Iran’s simmering resentments of the medieval Mullahs. But because there are multiple causes at work in a network of mutual causal interactions, there is not just a state of emergency, but one of Emergence that is chaotic (in the mathematical sense) and totally unpredictable.
It would, however, be a mistake to think this state is just a condition in emotional polities that like to take to the streets and scream “Death to America!” or “Death to Denmark” over every slight to what the classicist E. R. Dodds called “shame cultures.” The Becks and the Limbaughs here in the Good Old U.S.A. of Fox News and Clear Channel radio also indicate that we too have a historically passed-over culture in our midst, and that what we are seeing with all these NRA White Males is the Ghost Dance of the Rednecks.
Planetary culture is evolving from the territorial nation-state to the noetic polity. As we enter an evolutionary bottleneck in which our numbers may be greatly reduced by an enormous die-back of the human species brought on by environmental catastrophes that could amount to a Holocene Extinction, the real question is, can the noetic polity of science survive failed states, religious hysteria and reaction, and a global displacement of populations? The Know Nothings of the world are challenging science, but global science is increasingly no longer dominated by Europe and the U.S. but is beginning to be equaled in Asia. How these centrifugal and centripedal forces will settle into a new attractor is impossible to predict.
Humanity is being called upon to create a new political system of governance, and that is why I have argued elsewhere for the creation of tricameral legislatures; so far, it is clear from the hysterias of reaction, at home and abroad, that the human species is not yet up to the challenge.
• See William Irwin Thompson, “Catastrophist Governance and the Need for a Tricameral Legislature” in Self and Society: Studies in the Evolution of Culture (Exeter, UK: Imprint Academic, 2009), 137-145.
Cultural Historian William Irwin Thompson writes regularly for Wild River Review and is founder of the Lindisfarne Fellowship. He became nationally known as a writer for his best-selling book on contemporary affairs, At the Edge of History, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. He received the Oslo International Poetry Festival Award for his science fiction fantasy novel Islands Out of Time and has published four books of poetry. As a cultural historian, he is most widely known for his books, The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light: Mythology, Sexuality, and the Origins of Culture and Coming into Being: Artifacts and Texts in the Evolution of Consciousness. His collection of poems, Still Travels, will be published by Wild River Books, an imprint of Wild River Review, this summer.
June 19, 2009
by Terrence Cheromcka
As deputy editor of a not-for-profit online publication whose mission statement recognizes that often news exists in , and I quote, “a climate of repeated media flashes and quick news-byte stories that focus on trauma and terror,” I was very pleased to come across an article that recognized Twitter as a “media-watchdog.” More power, I thought. After-all, I am a member of that very source of power–Twitter! I can make a difference!
If you, too, are a Twitter tweeter be sure to add “CNNFail” to the list of agencies that you “follow”, if for no other reason than it might make you feel involved in a positive change, and maybe give you an ego stroke along with it. “CNNFail” has been a driving force resulting in CNN providing increased coverage of previously under-covered protests in Iran. Twitter helped round up the unsatisfied, news-thirsty troops by employing tactics such as the highly effective visual one found below compliments of user “Michael Pinto.”
The above photo can be found here. The article was interesting, but where things really started to heat up was the comment feedback session at the conclusion of the piece–Wild River Review will soon be home to one of these friendly communication junctions too! During a comment-to-comment sparring match on mashable.com some fellow jumped to the defense of CNN. It seems we have been watching the wrong CNN all along! Ah hah! We should have subscribed to CNN International– even the website is totally seperate! But wait, I had no idea this option even existed! And it is just a clicker-click away. Apparently, there is America and then there is the rest of the world that is totally out of the couch potato’s view .
At Wild River Review, we also believe that there are many, to quote our mission statement again, “underreported issues and positive initiatives that deserve increased coverage in order to effect positive change throughout the world.” Knowing that, you can only imagine how pleased I was to find out, also from mashable.com, that Twitter rescheduled a scheduled site maintenance shut-down period to accommodate Twitterers other than Americans! The site was originally going to close down at the low-traffic time of 12:45am on June 15th, but reconsidered when they realized that this time slot coincided with election protests in Tehran, Iran.
Will we ever know whether the chicken or the egg came first? Did CNN change as a result of the Twitter-centered uproar or did that movement simply reflect an inevitable media truth? Until we know for sure all I can do is wonder– and maybe tweet about it too!
Terrence Cheromcka is Deputy Editor of Wild River Review.
June 17, 2009
by Angie Brenner
It wasn’t supposed to turn out like this. “Our guy” won the election. He and his family won our hearts, and the hearts and minds of many who reside in the reasonable ‘thinking’ world. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Obama and his view of world justice.
After listening to Obama’s, now famous, Cairo speech, I see him as a world-vision leader. So why does climbing out of our eight-year abyss feel like moving through molasses?
Several years ago when I criticized the Bush/Cheney decision to invade Iraq I was told by some relatives that, “Anyone who didn’t like America should leave.”
Gee, if only life was that simple. The facts behind many of the Bush Administration’s decisions to “go to war” were ignored in years after 9/11. Now, with the laundry list of facts and lies behind us, shouldn’t we be happier?
Once the Bush house of cards began to fall apart and an intelligent African American became president of the most powerful nation in the world, I thought my former adversaries (relatively speaking) would embrace the ideals of what it means to be an American. Least of all: We don’t torture and send soldiers into a war with no end and no justification. We don’t let the most wealthy take money from the poorest and leave them without homes and jobs. We don’t make the population ill on our chemically enriched, industrialized food and deny people excess to health care. We don’t flaunt freedom and wire-tap and arrest people without warrant or charges. Or do we?
Each day I wonder why anyone would criticize a healthcare plan for all individuals, or regulations on the safety of our water, food, bridges, factories, mines, and financial institutions. Why does the conservative right work with such fervor to thwart Obama’s agenda without conceding a step in the direction of change that Americans so clearly want and so desperately need? If it isn’t their ball, they don’t want to play? Guess they haven’t heard personal finance guru, Suzy Orman, lecture, “People first, money second.” This philosophy has been good for Suzy, shouldn’t it be good for politics and business, too?
Maybe, just maybe, a part of me wanted to see Obama (as Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert often portrayed him during the election) surrounded with bluebirds, kittens, and puppies. He would right the wrongs and put us back on a course of prosperity for the masses. I could then go back to my own work and drink my latte’ in peace. But it is not to be. The abyss of corporate and political corruption and individual greed has run too deep. And even Obama can make an error in judgment or miscalculate his American opposition. I wasn’t counting on this.
Angie Brenner is West Coast Editor for Wild River Review. Her memoir, Anatolian Days and Nights will be published in 2010.
June 11, 2009
by Vibhas Tattu
Author of WRR column View from Dubai
No, I do not have any delusional or schizophrenic tendencies. The ME in the title is actually the accepted acronym for the Middle East here in Dubai and the Gulf region. The ‘Obama’ in the title is of course that guy with the cool talk and cooler walk. That guy who exudes oodles of charisma, charm and chutzpah. What’s more, he has the world holding its collective breath in expectation, but that last probably comes with his job as the President of the US of A.
True to form, President Obama did not disappoint during his ME visit. In fact he was everything people expected. Some even say he went farther than any US president in recent history in extending the hand of friendship and partnership to the Muslim world. They point to the fact that Obama showed a reverence to the Saudi king that was almost a bit much. Respecting the elderly monarch is one thing, but bowing low to him? Just before heading out to Cairo for his now famous speech, Obama visited King Abdullah at Riyadh and spent the night at his horse farm. This last minute Riyadh diversion was to “come to the place where Islam began and to seek His Majesty’s counsel and discuss with him many of the issues that we confront here in the Middle East”. King Abdullah and Saudi Arabia, besides their obvious oil and money clout, are also seen as highly influential in shaping opinion in the conservative Muslim world. If nothing else, these gestures certainly gave credence to Obama’s sincerity in tackling the knotty middle east problem that has proved difficult for so many before him. Presidents from Carter to Clinton have pursued peace in the Middle East, but it always remained elusive, a mirage in the desert. Nobel prizes have been awarded to encourage its resolution, but to no avail.
Obama seems to be approaching the problem in a novel, untried and untested way with his own personal brew of honesty, respect, openness and above all a marked lack of arrogance. People in the Muslim world tend to see the US people in general and presidents in particular as a bit arrogant. Obama, in his first major ME visit, seems to have made all the right moves to dispel that image and set the tone for the time to come.
Obama’s speech at the University of Cairo was a long one – 55 minutes long to be precise. In point of fact it was his longest speech as the US President. He was wide ranging, forthright, positive, honest and believable. As usual he was long on words, and even longer on hope. I almost expected him to repeat the cry from Grant Park, Chicago: ‘Yes, We can!’ It was a great speech, but it was just a speech.
As Obama well knows, the Middle East is not easy. The Middle East has been very difficult for a very long time. The people here have seen war and hardship on a daily basis, particularly in places like occupied Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan. Hope and optimism are rare here. The fact that the US waged an unjustified war in Iraq has only deepened the distrust and wariness. As Obama well knows, it will take a lot more that a fine speech to dispel that feeling.
The reactions to Obama’s olive branch are as mixed as can be expected. Many are hopeful that ‘a new beginning’ will really take root. That perhaps a sympathetic Obama might actually bring about change. But many also think it’s just another US president trying to impress with eloquence. Even White House aides cautioned that Obama was not out to break new policy ground in his speech. This is only a part of the President’s outreach efforts to the Muslim community.
Reading between the lines of Obama’s speech, it was noted here that he did not call for the removal of existing Israeli colonies in Gaza and West Bank, merely to halt the construction of new ones. The unflinching support Israel receives from the US is also seen as a major stumbling block in achieving peace and implementing the ‘two-state’ solution. Is this mere lip service or will we see any follow up action and change in the situation on the ground, they ask? While stridently calling upon Iran to halt its nuclear ambitions, isn’t the US conveniently ignoring Israel’s nuclear stockpile? The hard liners have acquired a cynicism born from long years of struggle and disappointment and such reactions are to be expected from them.
Samir Nama is one my customers whom I’ve known and worked with for the last nine years. Samir and his family live in Dubai and he, with his brother Munir, runs a very successful business and has a distribution network in South and Central Iraq, including Baghdad. He describes himself as “I am Iraqi, Muslim, and from Middle East”. When I asked him to give his reactions to Obama’s Middle East visit, he said * he felt Obama’s speech was important, even strange to hear, since they are more used to hearing negative things being said. So the change in rhetoric is important. However, according to Samir, everyone here is weary of the long and depressing experiences they have gone thorough and are looking for real steps, not just good intentions. He also added that most people here also know that they have to change their ideas and perceptions and thinking (about the US).
My neighbor in Sharjah is a 61 year old Palestinian. He, his wife and grown up son and daughter all live and work here in the UAE but have no nationality or passports. They only have Jordanian ‘papers’ and are essentially stateless. When I asked him whether he hopes to see statehood for Palestine in his lifetime, he only smiled and shrugged his shoulders.
Obama and the US may be well meaning, but the time for good intentions has passed. Arab nations have wearied of broken promises and begun forging their own alliances independent of the US. Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey are developing trade, energy and security ties that are already significant. Turkey’s trade with Iran has grown from $1 b in 2000 to $ 10 b in 2008 and is set to rise to $ 20 b soon. Syria’s strategic partnership with Iran is over 30 years old and growing stronger by the day. Turkey’s strained relations with Syria have turned a corner and Iraq and Syria, hostile a few years ago, are cooperating on oil pipe lines and setting up free trade zones. Iraq and Iran, who have fought a bitter war, are now working closely to mend fences. Iran also has switched all of its oil trade to Euro and Yen currencies instead of the traditional US $. These are all markers of the changing political and economic equations in the Middle East.
Iran’s defiance of the US is not mere bravado. It is based, at least in part, on strategic, regional pan-Arab alliances that it is actively forging, founded on shared economic, geo-political and not the least religious common ground. The Palestinian question is very close to peoples of the Middle East from Tabuk to Tehran and Damascus to Dubai. If the US can influence Israel and resolve this burning question, if the two state solution becomes a ground reality, the fear and distrust could be replaced with respect and admiration. But the time to act is now. The alternative is a future where US influence on the region will be left seriously diminished.
As President Barack Obama himself said in Germany “The moment is now for us to act”
In closing, here’s a Chekhovian irony: This piece was written using the Microsoft Word program. The spelling and grammar check in MS Word repeatedly suggested “Osama” as the correct spelling to replace “Obama” in the piece. This needs to change!
Obama must replace Osama not just in Word but in Deed.
* Samir’s actual words are as follows:
“As I am Iraqi , Muslim , and from middle east, I feel the speech of Obama was important, even strange on my ear from a president of USA, from whom we are used to hearing negative positions in all our affairs ,a change which we think is important. But all people here, because of long depressing experiences are looking for real steps after initial positive intent. Also on another hand, I think most of the people in this region know the changes which have to be made in their ideas and mentality, but it is important to include in the next steps a way to ensure justice in the main problems like the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
June 8, 2009
by Yousef Al-Mohaimeed
(Editor’s Note: In 2008, I had the opportunity to meet Saudi Arabian author Yousef Al-Mahaimeed at the PEN American Center World Voices Festival in New York City. Here are his thoughts on President Barack Obama’s visit to the Middle East. Joy E. Stocke)
President Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia was a good opportunity to remove misunderstanding between the USA and Saudi Arabia because, as you know, we had a great relationship for decades. But after September 11th we are suffering as Saudis from the treatment in United States.
I can’t forget my first and last visit to New York City to participate in the PEN American Center’s World Voices Festival. Airport security stopped me for more than three hours without any reason, just because I am a Saudi citizen this was my first visit. They did not care about the invitation from PEN. Anyway, I don’t like to talk about personal experience, but it is one of many cases that happen regularly.
Politically, we are optimistic in the Middle East for Obama’s visit, but at the same time we should be realistic that he cannot export democracy to the Arabian countries from the first world. He cannot make the Arabs believe in freedom of religion, or persuade the Arabian governments to give citizens their rights such as freedom of speech. A long time is needed to build new vision in this area.
The historic speech of Obama in Egypt was great; it was fair for Muslim communities but still contained just ideas and advice. All of us are humans, so all of us deserve peace. We are tired from Iran’s threats, and the insolent threats of Israel government, and Americans in Iraq and the whole area. I think it is not easy to solve many political problems in Middle East.
We always talk about politics and economics, but we cannot talk about the culture, how to change the people in Arab countries, how to make them open minded, and accept other cultures and respect the other religions.
When Obama became president, many Arabs celebrated, because with former President Bush, they felt that the American president, like any Arab president, could decide to do anything whenever he wanted.
Yousef al-Mohaimeed is author of the novel, Wolves of the Crescent Moon.
June 4, 2009
by Joy E. Stocke
With these words, part of his speech at Cairo University, President Barack Hussein Obama showed that he, and by extension the country he was elected to lead, is sincere in making a change not only in the Middle East, but in the world.
As Salumu Alaykum – or Salaam ‘Alaykum is the most common greeting in the Middle East, North Africa, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Northern India, and Indonesia where Obama spent part of his childhood. It is used by Muslims, Jews and Christians. In Hebrew the greeting becomes Shalom Aleichem.
In Turkey, where I’ve spent much time, the term is used by secular as well as religious people. We greet one another with a simple Selam.
After the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center, I had the privilege of attending an Interfaith Service at the Masjid Mosque of Central New Jersey. People of all faiths had lost loved ones in the Towers. One member of the Masjid congregation described his escape from the North Tower. Once he reached safety, the only words he could conjure were these: Salaam, Salaam, Salaam.
Obama and the heads of state he is meeting with on his first visit to the Middle East have no illusion that a greeting used in the midst of a public speech will magically transform the complex, religious, political, tribal, and historical issues that have brought so much discord to the region.
But it’s a shrewd and important start.
Joy E. Stocke is editor in chief of Wild River Review. Her book, Anatolian Days and Nights, co-written with Angie Brenner will be published in 2010.
June 1, 2009
by Joy E. Stocke
(First of a summer series.)
I have to admit that, no, due to budget constraints, I’m not going to France this summer. In my case, this summer’s vacation travel is limited to the annual family trip to the New Jersey shore. (An exotic adventure to be reported upon in August.) However, there are more websites and blogs than I can count that feed one of my hobbies, arm chair travel. Here is one of my favorites when I need a fix Francais: France Revisited .
On a practical level, France Revisited, published by American Ex-Pat, Gary Lee Kraut, gives advice and tips to travelers on a budget. But it also covers politics (Kraut will report on President Barack Obama’s visit to Normandy), art and culture. In the latest issue, author Stephanie Sommers visits a very funky hotel in Paris, one that I would check into were someone to give me a plane ticket: A Night in the Normandy Hotel.
The Swiss-born writer, Alain de Botton, wrote a lovely and also very funny book called The Art of Travel. In it, he describes one travel writer who, to paraphrase the poet William Blake, saw the world in a grain of sand. Said travel writer (If my memory serves me correctly, he was French.) wrote his own book called, Journey Around My Bedroom.
I have a file I keep on my laptop of the once and future places I will visit. And I’m sitting here looking at a poster from the 1930s of a cruise liner in Kowloon Harbor, Hong Kong. After my visit to Paris this morning, I’m spending the afternoon searching websites that will give me advice on how to pack my steamer trunk.
Joy E. Stocke is editor in chief of Wild River Review. Her memoir, co-written with Angie Brenner, Anatolian Days & Nights, Adventures in Turkey - Land of Dervishes, Sinners and Saints, will be published in 2010.
Powered by WordPress