Sometimes you just don’t know whether to laugh, cry or be alarmed when hearing about what the boys in secretive back rooms are doing in the name of antiterrorism, or homeland security, or whatever else they wish to call it. This time it seems, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the semi-secret agency charged with coming up with new and cool ways to protect the citizens of the United States from foreign bad guys, wants to hire someone to figure out how vulnerable some people are to “narratives” (oral stories, speeches, propaganda, books, etc. that cause people to think) and then, supplant such messages with “better” messages to head off the path that for such people might lead them to becoming a terrorist.
My fear is not so much about the program, but the amount of wasted money on such a program. They’ll have to see inside someone’s mind. The article’s author thinks it will not succeed because historically propaganda programs – well-intentioned or not – fail. The problem in the intervals in which they are successful. Whatever one wants to call it – trickle down economics, voodoo economics or supply side economics – that propaganda has been remarkably successful especially since Reagan and the triangulation of the now disbanded centrist Democratic Leadership Council. A sizable minority of Americans have bought into the idea that the wealthy must be pandered to, the wealthy create jobs and the wealthy should not be taxed in proportion to the benefits they have derived from labor and infrastructure.
In the summer of 1961, when Ernest Hemingway shot Ernest Hemingway and proved that “grace under pressure” was a motto easier to admire than to embody, novelists still were the generals of the culture, an officer’s class of swaggering hero-artists: domineering, prickly, aggressive, and conspicuously male. Their defining subject was organized violence, modern war as experienced from within, and they seemed to agree with Poppa and Stephen Crane that however ignoble war’s ways and means might be, its effect on the person was purifying, finally. It erased the contingencies of class and background, stripped away illusion, chased off folly, and offered one and all the same grim sacraments of terror, pain, and loss.
Then, that fall, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 appeared, abruptly downgrading war’s special status as an existential crucible and also, unwittingly, beginning the process of rendering four-star male novelists irrelevant. The book treats war on a par with business or politics (to Heller they were very much the same), portraying it as a system for alienating people from their own interests and estranging them from their instincts. Protocol replaces principle, figures plucked from thin air supplant hard facts, and reason becomes rigamarole. Heller’s island airbase of freaked-out aviators oppressed by cuckoo officers is the ding-a-ling civilian world in microcosm, not an infernal, tragic realm apart. The men who can feel aren’t agonized, they’re addled. The ones who can’t feel (and therefore give the orders) are permanently, structurally annoyed. The naked and the dead are here but invisible to the beribboned and the daft.
The lede is a typical Slate attention getter. The realization that war, politics and business all operate on similar planes is a tempting analogy to think about. We don’t get the battlefield shock and immediacy of deaths from politics and business ( with maybe the exception of environmental disasters) the way we do from war zones. The deaths, illness and shorter lifespans are still real enough even if they lack the drama of war.
This story really pissed off some conservatives a few days ago – Is Herman Cain the Most Unctuous Black Man Alive?.
Cain is a clown. You see it in the way he constantly mollifies white audiences with self-effacing, racialized comedy that borders on minstrelsy (referring to himself as “black-walnut ice cream” or suggesting that the Secret Service call him “Cornbread”). You see it in his stunning gaps in knowledge and understanding of foreign policy and domestic affairs. He says if you don’t have a job, don’t blame Wall Street, because it’s your fault, which in a crippling recession with historically high unemployment numbers means he’s either frighteningly blind or offensively ignorant. This is not a man of serious intellect or realistic solutions or admirable character. This is a buffoon.
Yet such is the power of the news cycle some of the very same conservatives are now attacking Cain – Herman Cain’s problems with the Right. At least one aspect of Cain’s view of the world is the relatively insulated life he has led as an adult. He went to a very good college thanks to the sacrifices of is parents. His military experience was cushy and insulated from the kind of life the average enlisted undergoes. Once in the corporate suite only a few people could say no to him. He quickly developed Donald Trump disease.He loves the sound of his own voice and surrounds himself with back slappers. How good can your arguments and assessments be if you never hear or read any substantive challenges to them. If there is someone out there who has confronted Cain, said you’re wrong and here is why, I would love to hear about that experience. While good at math he is terrible at figuring out the repercussions of any public policy that involves abstractions or empathy. Is he the most “Unctuous Black Man Alive”? He does have some competition. On Cain’s most admired list is SCOTUS Justice Clarence Thomas – Herman Cain’s ‘Model’ SCOTUS Justice Is An Ethical Trainwreck, Thinks Child Labor Laws Are Unconstitutional
For the record, we on “the left” do not attack Justice Thomas for any reason other than the fact that he is a terrible judge. His record on the Supreme Court is marred by conflicts of interest and other ethical scandals, and he embraces a discredited understanding of the Constitution that would declare everything from child labor laws to the ban on whites only lunch counters unconstitutional.
One other challenger in the Unctuous Black Man contest would surely include Rep. Allen West(R-Fl). It would be easy to read about West and conclude that he is utterly deranged. Until proven otherwise I’ll go with the conclusion that West has carefully evaluated the world, history, economics and public policy with all his intellectual might and has made the conscious decision to be against every aspect of small r – republicanism and the core values of modern democracies.
There were some articles after Obama’s election about post-racial politics. I read so many of them I at least entertained the possibility. Than comes along Cain and West with black on black racism mixed with some proto-fascism. So much for post racial.
Actress Carole Lombard, ca. 1937. by Eugene Robert Richee. Lombard’s birthday was Oct 6th. She died in a plane crash in 1942. She was said to be ahead of her time, something of a paleo-feminist. She was self-employed, smoked, drink, wore dresses that were considered provocative, lived on her own, posed for some “scandalous” photos, frequently used profanity and told dirty jokes. She was in one of my favorite movies, the original Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941). While there was frequently humor in Alfred Hitchcock’s movies he only directed one comedy, Mr. & Mrs. Smith.