Dave Sim's blogandmail #335 (August 12th, 2007)
Jeff Seiler again, in a letter from 5-21-07. He must really be missing the Dallas Morning News along about now up there in Tulsa (unless he's reading it on television these days). Quoting columnist Rob Dreher's "Not everyone longing to be an American" Dallas Morning News, April 1, 2007:
It is futile to expect liberal democracy to emerge in the Islamic world, because it is a Western concept [that is] antithetical to core Islamic values, such as the inseparability of religion from the civil sphere, collectivism, and the privileged status of Muslims within a social plurality.
< "I think that's a good point," writes Jeff, "Except that I wonder whether all Muslims consider themselves to hold a `privileged status' in the world. YOU certainly don't seem to act as if you think that. So, could it be that the less truly observant of the five pillars one is, the more one might be inclined to consider oneself and one's peer group of Muslims as ascendant?" >
Mm. I think exactly the opposite. Once you start jettisoning those sins that most of the West consider "lifestyle choices" and become more observant – moving the five pillars to the core of your life and getting rid of everything else -- you become aware, not so much of having a `privileged status' in the world (which I think the materialistic West has just eroded its secular-humanist self into seeing "finding favour in the sight of God" as being) as much as aspiring to "finding favour in the sight of God" but actually having a chance at it. The assumption is that others are better at it than you are so you try to work harder at "finding favour in the sight of God" and then suddenly you seem to lock into place and experience it and then slip back out of it. Am I being tested or have I actually lost favour in the sight of God? The more you work at it and aspire to it, the more transparent the Western version of happiness becomes: i.e. What can I do every thirty seconds in the next day that will most effectively stimulate the pleasure centers in my brain non-stop since stimulating the pleasure centers in my brain non-stop is my whole reason for living and the whole point of my inalienable human rights? I look at that, as I think most Muslims do, as a cautionary tale. The further away you can stay from "thinking" like that the more likely you are to find favour in the sight of God.
< "Impervious to beauty and deadened to depravity," April 29, 2007. This is a spot-on analysis of our American culture of today, in my opinion. His penultimate point was
We have learned to expand our understanding of the normative to include art that exalts things that ought to be repugnant to those who love life.
< "This article reminded me of my reaction to Karl Kressbach's CHROMOSOME CROSSROADS, a Day Prize finalist from my first year at SPACE, 2005. That remains the only comic book which I have ever intentionally thrown away, in the trash, with, actual repugnance. I wondered at the time and I wonder still: What was your thinking (or what did you think about Gerhard) having made that a finalist?" >
Well, I knew Gerhard's prejudices already. He really hates anything having to do with the paranormal (super-heroes, vampires, space opera) which really made the Day Prize selections an ordeal for him since that's almost exclusively what people write and draw comic books about. Basically I think he just tried to find something that had to do with real people in the real world and what he came up with was Karl's book about incest. I can't rule out that he was, like most secular humanists, also trying to shock me since that tends to be the secular humanist approach to those who believe in God. Same thing as him picking LONE & LEVEL SANDS two years later, which tells the story of Moshe and Aaron from the Egyptian point of view. The Anything But The Monotheistic God approach to life. I'm pretty much unshockable, though. I assessed the books on what I saw as their own merits: didn't choose CHROMOSOME CROSSROADS – if there's an award-winning treatment of incest in comic-book form, I didn't think it was this one (although I'm still a big fan of Karl's spider-thin inking style) -- and did pick LONE & LEVEL SANDS – A. David Lewis was at least familiar with the material he was writing about and he wrote intelligently about it and the overall package was pretty darned good even if I entirely disagreed with it. I tried not to let what I saw as Gerhard's actual motivation (or the ___ inciting him) to affect my own judgment. As a firm believer in the First Amendment, I certainly wasn't going to tell him that he COULDN'T nominate either book.
< "David Brooks writes in "Threading the Niebuhrian needle" (May 1st 2007)
Out of the blue, I asked, "Have you ever read Reinhold Niebuhr?" Mr. Obama's tone changed. "I love him. He's one of my favourite philosophers." So, I asked, "What do you take away from him?" "I take away," Mr. Obama answered in a rush of words, "the compelling idea that there's serious evil in the world, and hardship, and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief [that] we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn't use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction. I take away the sense [that we have to make these efforts, knowing [that] they are hard, and not swinging from naïve idealism to bitter realism."
< "Leave aside that Mr. Brooks may be writing as a ghost apologist for Mr. Obama here, and that sounds might impressive," Jeff writes. "But, as Mr. Brooks goes on to add
When I asked him to articulate the central doctrine of his foreign policy, he said, `The single objective of keeping America safe is best served when people in other nations are secure and feel invested.' That's either profound or vacuous depending on your point of view.
< "Mr. Brooks does seem rather left-leaning in his thoughts and writings, but he also seems willing to accede that Barack Obama may be just shining us on, in a (Bill) Clintonian, pre-presidential way. `Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow" and all that. Nevertheless, this will be one of the seminal presidential elections and Mr. Obama will be front and center. Best to start paying attention." >
My reading of it would be that Mr. Brooks attempted to tackle the question of Iraq in two stages: first by asking about Reinhold Niebuhr who is a) one of those Woody Allen Ivy League names that lets Mr. Obama prove that he does read books and retain what they say and b) problematic for liberals because -- as seen by Obama's paraphrase -- Niebuhr does believe that there is such a thing as evil in the world, that we can't delude ourselves that we can ever eliminate it but that we have to renew our efforts to do so in spite of that fact. This is John F. Kennedy-style liberalism. "Support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty." This is exactly what was eliminated from the Democratic Party in its take-over by the feminists. "Don't be silly. There is no such thing as a foe. Everyone is our friend if we just behave in a friendly manner." Deluded as that "thinking" was, it was closely adhered to by liberal Democrats – starting with Jimmy Carter -- until 9/11 shook the ground out from under them.
What Mr. Brooks was doing from what I can see (in intelligentsia code) was attempting to determine if Mr. Obama was serious-minded or if this was yet another election that the Democratic intelligentsia could feel free to "sit out": one Hollywood suck-up Democrat versus another Hollywood suck-up Democrat. The fact that Mr. Obama's first answer is "I love him," is an alarming sign from a thinking liberal's point of view. You don't "love" a philosopher: not in a sane world, anyway. Which is why Brooks establishes his own bona fides with "What do you take away from him?" That's what you do with a philosopher. You take away an idea he has presented – usually a gut instinct reaction that makes you flag a page in a magazine or write down a quote (a good habit to get into) -- and move it onto your own game board and contemplate it, deciding where it fits into your own scheme of things, centrally, tangentially, obliquely, as ironic counterpoint, as foundational component, what? Or you don't take away from him. Few intelligent people adopt the viewpoints of another in toto.
I would agree that the totality of Mr. Obama's answer – at least up to the last bit of phraseology -- sounds "mighty impressive…and true". But then I've agreed with the George W. Bush White House's approach to foreign policy right from 12 September on and this is the underpinning of it which George W. Bush is now heroically defending not only against the Democratic majority but also against his father, James Baker's Iraq Study Group and all the other squishy Republicans who want to cut-and-run or find common ground with Iranian theocrats (you could burn the American Constitution as an expression of goodwill, I guess). I really hope Mr. Baker can at least keep himself from flying over there with a cake his wife has baked again.
The "not swinging from naïve idealism to bitter realism" definitely takes Mr. Obama out of the realm of the thinking man, in my view and this would seem to be Mr. Brooks' assessment as well. To describe realism as "bitter" clearly puts him in the feminist camp. Realism is realism. It is lunacy, in my view, to attach bitterness to it (although clearly a feminist would have to since it would mean having to let go of the delusion that military force is never under any circumstances no matter what a valid solution to a problem and for a feminist letting go of that delusion is either a) unacceptable or b) a source of great bitterness).
So, Mr. Brooks starts at the periphery of the Iraq question, Reinhold Niebuhr's beliefs about evil and that it must be fought even though it can never be eradicated, and then moves to the center of the question: the central doctrine of [Mr. Obama's] foreign policy. That is, having established the parameters – there's serious evil in the world, we can't eliminate it, but we have to try, and we can't be naïve idealists or bitter realists – what does Mr. Obama see as the central reality of What America Should Do when he plots all of the trajectories of those other realities and has to come down on the side of one reality or the other?
I assume that a feminist would find "The single objective of keeping America safe is best served when people in other nations are secure and feel invested" profound in the way they find anything in which they find their favourite meaningless "feel good" buzz-words ("secure" and "feel invested") achieving placeholder status profound. Realistically, however, I think it's irretrievably vacuous. The last thing you want is for Iranian theocrats, former Iraqi Baathists and the Islamist factions pressuring Musharraf in Pakistan and Erdogan in Turkey – all of them "people in other nations" -- to feel "secure" and "invested" because the last thing that is going to make them feel "secure" or "invested" is a safe America.
Newspaper writers don't usually get to make up their own headlines, so high marks for whomever wrote this one. "Threading the Niehbuhrian Needle" sums it up nicely. You could also call it "Obama attempts to have his Niehbuhrian Cake and Eat it Too."
No, the only Realist I see on the world stage right now is George W. Bush. If Islamism was a threat to America's safety in the fall of 2001 and Islamism hasn't been eliminated, then Islamism is still a threat to America's safety until it is eliminated. And because that is, as I see it, the only realistic view, George W. Bush is one of the few Americans I can think of who isn't profoundly bitter. Why? Because he's being realistic. You only become bitter when you delude yourself that there is some other Realistic way for someone who believes in basic human freedoms to deal with Islamism besides confronting it and eliminating it. The only question is HOW to eliminate it, not whether or not it should be eliminated or HOW to appease it. You can't appease someone who wants to destroy you. Take it from me. I'm something of an expert on the subject.
Next Sunday: The rest of Jeff's letter
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