Tuesday, January 23, 2007

East is East, and West is West, or More Than Meets The Eye

"Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet."
-Rudyard Kipling
Barrack-Room Ballads, 1892

America exists among a pair of realities: the political and the living. They exist in parallel and the world seems fine as they go along, but when they intersect we, as American citizens, are forced to stop because it feels, with no better word for description, weird.

Honestly, as regimes are switched from conservative to liberal or vice versa, we live pretty much the same despite all the fire and brimstone talk of those lambasting the opposition. Whether Nancy Pelosi is the devil or Dick Cheney is a man-hunter, no matter what they do any day of the week I can still go to Best Buy and pick up a recently released special edition DVD in consternation since I already own the original release which only in hindsight oozes "non-special." But I need special things...special things that I expect to be released every Tuesday. And on sale.

Political reality exists in its own nameless -osphere, floating in some bitchy ether above the world (or below). We watch that realm with interest probably because, in the end, we like to root for teams and take sides and talk about bad plays made and the best trash-talking among figures of might and prowess. This world shown to us in the newspapers and on television is untouchable, and its separation lends it an almost mythic quality that even ancient peoples would have loved. Imagine if the quibbles throughout the Greek pantheon were broadcast over Achaean television:

Anonymous sources close to Zeus say he suffers such harsh mood swings because his father consumed all of his previous children. Whether the public release of this knowledge will aid or diminish his bipartisanship in the ongoing Trojan affair is unknown as Zeus's own son, the spoiled Sarpedon, continues to fight despite being disliked by both Achaean and Trojan soldiers alike.

With me and (I'm assuming) my generation, the Cold War and the ended never-ending rivalry with the Soviets are much like tales of yore. If the symbolic end of the Cold War was the disassemblage of the Berlin Wall, then I was but a babe of about nine years old. The Cold War was my parents' fight, their scare, the Soviets were their enemy and their target. I grew up hearing about it, feeling the fear that the previous generations still harbored. But when the Wall fell and Democracy found the permanently ravaged CCCP they became merely Russians again and the threat as well as the vibrant red flag were gone forever.

But it's hard to make people forget, and our parents and/or grandparents would always have the Red Soviets to make jokes about and distrust, Communism is still the great enemy. Hearing them talk about it, though, the subversive manner of relations that the respective countries adopted during this time is as good as anything you'll find in Bulfinch's Mythology. Where this is now Russia there was the Soviet Union, a dark, oppressive superpower that lived in caves of fire and spent every day upon its throne planning the next move to take down the unquestionable superheroics of the United States of America. It was modern mythology, it was Achilles against Hector, Michael against Lucifer, Optimus Prime against Megatron. Honestly, to me, it felt as real as James Bond presented it (and what a presentation that is).

Though my ilk and I felt the echoing pangs of Cold War fever through our parents, our menace and fear came from Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Nearly immediately after the fall of Soviet Russia there rose this harrowing figure with a name that was easy for an eleven year-old to pun. He looked like Stalin and apparently walked Hitler's walk what with a boisterous megalomaniacal public persona. He fit in easily with America's previous super-villains. His opposition ushered the first socially large-scale battle into my memory, what with Optimus America's transformation into battle mode from Desert Shield to Desert Storm, complete with battle bunker trailer attachment. And afterwards, Hussein and his Iraqticons hid away in waiting until I got to be about draft age and we bounced right back in there, guns a blazin'.

Hussein and his demonic Iraqi regime was my Cold War, the wave of terror that paralyzed my generation that I will tell stories about to my children and bore them. Don't get me wrong, it's not like I wanted that fear to continue or stretch any farther than it had already reached. I'm just saying that it's weird, is all. I wonder if this was how my parents felt when the wall fell, when they were officially told that a Soviet threat was over. It was a long fall, to be sure, but they were conditioned to hate and fear them like I feel I and mine were for Iraq. Look at our movies and public stance. When the Sum Of All Fears was being adapted into a film (written before September 11th, 2001) the main Middle Eastern villains of the book were changed because producers felt that those types of antagonists in films were becoming cliché. Talk about foresight, Tom Clancy (the author of Sum Of All Fears) was one of the last great capitalists on Cold War tensions.

Some say that we don't need to be in Iraq right now, that we shouldn't have gone in there in the second place. Osama Bin Laden-Scream did attack our country and needs to be brought to justice (however that may be met) but he wasn't the icon that Hussein was and is. Maybe Bin Laden will step up to take Hussein's mantle as America's premiere villain, but it's obvious from appearances and actions that the classic super villain is gone and in its place is something much more subversive but no less sinister.

13 comments:

Eben said...

I guess my comment here is yet again an observation that will sound like I disagree with you, and I don't totally...

i thought I would help clear up your time line.
Let me start I guess with the Cold War. This period is from the end of World War 2 to 1989 - the official declared end.
This led to a coup which ended the Soviet era and in 1991 the USSR became the Confederation of Independent States... which is sorta like a defensive treaty organization like NATO...
ANYWAY...
Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990. So... Desert Storm happened during the fall of the Soviet Union and likely would never have occurred had the Soviet Union not started its tumble...

This kind of makes me wonder about a few points Boast you've boasted...

Iraq wasn't a Cold War. There was fighting. iraq never had weapons that could reach US soil...and if he had the range would pale in comparsion to the damge of any Soviet weapon pointed at us.
Were were really living in fear of the SCUD missile? No.
Was Iraq part of the war on terror?
To me less and less everyday.
Is Saddam bigger than Bin Laden? Absolutely no way.

Bin Laden has already hit America, bin Laden looms with a Cold War enemy like presence. Bin Laden fear cancels flights and changes security so people can't drink bottle water on planes when they uncover some weird plot involving gel-like material...
bin Laden his lot are a real looming threat over us all, that potential ruiner of the Best Buy Trip and our average consumer driven lives.

I feel like your boasts point is trying to try and come to grips with the fall of Saddam. We are living in history right now, I think Saddam is going to be vastly overshadowed by Bin Laden, and Bin Laden probably by the larger sword of damacles... man-bear-pig...

When we look at the Cold War time frame of 50 years (half a century of daily potential impending doom)

How will we look back at 1990-2040?
Will we say Saddam was that big threat that nearly caused the world to crumble to dust?

You give the puppet too much credit, Dan.

D.C.V. Bethel said...

Thank you for your comments, and the points are valid. However, I do feel that you may be over-analyzing the boasts I make.

I am not saying that Desert Storm was a Cold War. It was indeed very warm and a lot of lives were lost.

The comparison I'm making with the boast is strictly symbolic.

I'm just saying, "To this point, Saddam and his dictatorship is me (and my generation?) as the Red Menace is to previous American generations. I'm saying that Saddam seems to be one of the last of a certain type of American villain (perhaps Kim Jong Il is cut from the same cloth) that future menaces aren't a part of. It's gone from proud, tall, painfully narcissistic, and selfish open portrayals of dictatorship to cave-dwelling, bad dressing, religious zealots.

That and I'm just saying it's weird to think that Saddam is dead.

Eben said...

I guess what I am trying to say is more that Iraq was one of those hot moments that the Cold War had -
(i.e. Vietnam/Afghanistan/Korea)
As the Soviet Union fell, one could argue America shifted from anti-communism to anti-tyranny.
I think symbolically you have a point but if thats the case you are underestimating the American media & "political reality"'s ability to create a symbolic enemies. Saddam is gone, sure, but Time or Newsweek will have another "The Face of Evil" cover that will get that "living reality" in a fear tizzy.

Also, a lot of the reason the Persian Gulf is screwed up is because of the Cold War and the proxy wars the superpowers waged in the region.

I'm not trying to rip on your boast. I think it was very well written. I am just giving you feedback as a member of your generation :)

D.C.V. Bethel said...

See, now I think we are actually treading upon the same ground. I'm not trying to make a point that Iraq is different from the Cold War or that Iraq was "my Cold War" or that Iraq was the nemesis superpower comparable to Russia. I'm just saying that, to me, Saddam was scary on par, eliciting a feeling that I feel Cold War despots made young America feel previously. Saddam, Lenin, Stalin, Communism, Stalin-Eben...I'm saying they are all a line of very specific boogeymen that scared American society, especially its youth, they are our Dr. Moriarty, our Blofeld, our Megatron.

In fact, if I am making any explicit correlation in the boast it is between America and her enemies and the Transformers, which should give you an idea of the scholarly depth I intended with this particular boast. I was just pontificating, hoping to make some clever statements and gather my thoughts on the demise of a guy that scared me as a kid, especially when I turned 18 and had to register for selective services.

This boast had nothing to do with "American media" or who Time declares the "Face of Evil." Who Time says is evil doesn't make me afraid of him, it's the living one does in time and just being alive with open ears and eyes seeing international scuffles, dwelling on them and ruminating over the possibilities of future major international scuffles and wonder, "will I die over there some day?"

This has nothing to do with timelines, though I respect your attempt to clear them up despite my not being ignorant of them. As a kid I didn't know which caused what but still I could feel scared and scare me Saddam did in a way that Osama does now.

Eben said...

Up until this point you've tried to say that your blog is different because it has a level of scholarly value. -Or did I miss the point of the "Literary Masturbation" boast again?
According to this last comment, should I assume that your boasts are all simply a showcase for your clever statements and quirky comparisons? and that there is nothing deeper going on beyond those clever statements?

Do you really desire that people should just applaud your clever comments and move on?

These boogeymen you speak of are a dime a dozen.
Saddam was just a Dino-Bot Deceptatcon, a new face of evil with the same old tyrant story.
The American Leadershp can go shopping in Tyrants R' Us anyime they want to and come to us with a new Deceptacon to battle in the Pentagon's sandboxes.
There are plenty to pick from and the shelves are just getting refilled everyday we go after them like a giant semi crashing through god knows who's home and life to get at those tyranic bastard.

It is the endless wars that always scared me, not the "collect 'em all" figureheads. You lose one in the sandbox and mommy will go by you a new one.

D.C.V. Bethel said...

One doesn't attack my blog and get away with it; one doesn't assume that I suddenly forgot why and how I write my blogs. You, sir, are simply misunderstanding a single word. I said that this boast lacked "scholarly depth." Call it splitting hairs, but to me "scholarly" is not the same thing as "literary."

I commented in the boast you mention, "Literary Masturbation", that, in blogs, people should write what "intrigues and and enlightens the reader." That is the goal of literary works, not scholarly. Scholarly texts are heavily motivated by research and a sort of scientific process that are usually only read by people in the specific field for which the text was written. Literature and all things literary do not fall into that category.

There exists scholarly works in literature, this comprises of literary criticism, essays and such, stuff that would only be read by English teachers and other Lit. scholars. That is not literature, it is scholarly in the same way as JAMA.

"East is East..." is most certainly literary in the sense that I am investigating a topic that both "intrigues and enlightens" myself, and I tried to do so in a way that it would do the same for others, to make them think, develop their own ideas and respond, just as you did. Because I didn't include scholarly research into the subject does not make this any less literary. I will admit that I was partly motivated by the fact that I had not posted anything in a long time. But I thought I made some interesting points, something that made me think (falsely labeled, I'll admit, as being merely "clever statements") and obviously you, too.

So, sir, I think I continue my tradition, with or without your denunciation. And I would like you to know that I would never lose that focus because my head would explode like robots on Futurama who experience a logical paradox.

In response to your further comments, I would like to say that what I think my boast was about is different from what you wanted it to be about. An investigation into America's stance and response to tyranny is what you want, using all of American history and hindsight as a basis for commentary. That is a level I wasn't going to take it to because, quite honestly, that is more your field.

My point was that I wasn't using hindsight and knowledge gained later in life to examine Saddam's effect on American society. I, instead, examined the gap between youth and adulthood, when the twain that never meet met (hence the title of the boast). I, personally, was not scared of Saddam the man. I never thought he was going to sneak into my room at night and tickle me until I gave him all of my toys. I reference the boogeyman, a character representing youthful fear, panic, and paranoia. Saddam to me was more myth than man and it was the myth that frightened me. We don't fear the boogeyman as a being because he's ugly and smells bad, we fear what he has done to others and the possibility that he could do that to us.

Saddam may very well be a "dime a dozen" tyrant, but he was my "dime a dozen" tyrant, who, during my youth, was the villain of the only war that I had known and one that seemed too awesome in his power to fade into history. But, as you said, he has done exactly that. If you want, and I think it would be a wonderful discussion, to investigate the litany of America's villainous enemies and rank their value, let's do it. Just understand that that was not what I was trying to do with this boast. That's what you wanted, and I hope it has made you look into the topic a bit deeper than you had before. That's why I boast.

I wonder how much longer I can write on this topic before I'm thrown into jail for treason.

Eben said...

Why do you feel like literary and scholarly are really so different?

Literary pieces are ripe for interpretation, and examination, right? When you read “literary fiction” isn’t half the enjoyment the book’s have ever deepening meaning, the ties to other elements of story, weaving strings of prose to touch on that basic sense of a human collective experience. Are there not scholars of literature who delve deep into toolbox of the writer to examine other meanings and hidden meanings of literary works?

It seems unfair to me (an avid and still rabid fan) to claim that this and previous boasts are not available for examination or interpretation at a scholarly (or even my level of scholarly - which is not even half-assed scholarly) because you haven’t done the research.
I honestly could care less if your facts aren’t totally in line. As I prefaced in my first comment, a lot of this is going to sound like disagreement, and I don’t feel we disagree on really anything except our personal opinions: Mine being that Saddam wasn’t scary to me; yours being Saddam was scary to you on any sort of symbolic plane. My comments have only been in the service my ego, trying to explain why I don’t buy into the fear “tyrants as symbols”. I don’t think we disagree on their use, and their potential to be scary.

andy said...

I have no doubt you two sit in opposite ends of the house, thinking up witty remarks to words unsaid, constantly refreshing the blog until another comment appears...

Mr. Eben wants to say that the Cold War was an epic, fifty year ordeal. It was not one man or one war. It was not Stalin and Truman, Kennedy and Khrushchev, or Gorbachev and Reagan. It was not Vietnam, Afghanistan, or Korea. It was not even the Iron Curtain or Red China. The Cold War was more a social phenomenon, a contemporary age in World History. It was a clash of cultures and ideals. The flavor was Capitalism and Communism, Soviet and American.

Desert Storm and Desert Shield were no Cold War. Consider them like a new Korea. Afghanistan was no different; think of it as an twisted Vietnam with the Viet Cong recast as Taliban. Saddam Hussein, Kim-Jonh Il, or Osama bin Laden are all characters, like Ho Chi Minh, Mao Zedong, Nikita Khruschchev, and Josef Stalin. Instead of ICBMs and Soviet invasions, the fear is terrorist attacks and bio-chem weapons. All the details have changed. Although it is still a clash of cultures, even the cultures have changed. The West is not the West it used to be and East is not the East it used to be. The ideals themselves have acquired new names and faces. Soviets and Communism have become Muslims and terror. Americans and Capitalism have become Judeo-Christians and freedom.

Or have they?

Conflict is conflict. It does not go away just because you beat the bad guy. To put it in the parlance of our generation, there is always a next level to conquer, a new boss to defeat. As long as their is human society, awash in inequality and disparity, their will be conflict. The truth is, until we find somebody on another planet to fight with, we will continue to fight with each on this one.

I think it is interesting to look at what I call the only insightful idea Westwood Studios ever had: if you went to great lengths to prevent the most horrific and devastating conflict in your life, you may earn a short respite, but in the end, the conflict will return; the players may change, but the conflict will always return.

However, if it brings you any comfort, consider the changes in world economy happening around us. Consider the nations that are growing, moving from the "third-world" to the "first-world." Soon, they will be the genuine players. I suspect in ten years, this little group of high-minded Muslim philosophers in the desert will be meaningless compared to what is coming.

D.C.V. Bethel said...

I think Andrew beautifully summarized every single point brought up in the conversation Eben and I have been discoursing and, as a result, has made it sound quite civilized. Too bad, I was just about to call Eben a poop-face. :(

As for Eben's re-re-response, I think I jumped on your response because I was excited to get back on the BoB and I saw the word "disagree" and wondered if I could still fight the good fight.

I think you are still mistaken between literary and scholarly work. I think it can be agreed that literature can be evaluated in a scholarly manner, but not vice versa, generally speaking, because of the intended audience. I do not write my blog with a scholarly intention but it can very well be used in such a manner, I don't know where you think I said that it couldn't be used as such. People can read this and use it for whatever purpose they want, there's nothing wrong with that; I'd be surprised if it happened, but I'd heartily approve.

I have learned a valuable lesson today, but you are still a poop-face.

Now, if I could let myself do this, I'm going to try and get back on topic.

I think Eben made a very good point (which I sort of criticized) about Saddam the man not being scary, but what we would do because of what he represented, more than because of what he actually did. I didn't realize it was that which actually scared me in my youth and that, in fact, I was more afraid of my own country than I was of the man whom I pictured as the threat.

But there's no denying that Saddam was, if not evil, then a jackass, a murderer, and a despot. Maybe it's that confusion I am now realizing, subconsciously even, that is making his departure feel weird because, as Andrew said, even though he is gone, he--his representative presence that scared me as a child--does not feel absent. It is as strong as ever.

P.S. If Saddam were, in fact, a Transformer--undoubtedly a Decepticon--he would probably transform into one of those camel spiders that are worthy of nightmares.

Eben said...

Maybe Andrew could explain why "if aliens came, we will fight them"

Why does the human race need war and conflict? Is it just the technologic advancement coupled with survival of the fittest?

Surely we don't need to be so pessimistic that we can't ever find a solution to end war. I tend to agree that haves vs. have-nots system breeds conflict, but that doesn't mean conflict must be solved by slaughtering each other.

Now...where did I put my peyote, and grateful dead albums...

Also Andrew, how hard is it to see Dan has posted a boast and then add checking it for thought provoking commentary to the daily routine of viewing porn sites, checking myspace, checking email, viewing pornsites, viewing myspace, viewing your other email, & viewing porn sites?
I suppose waiting for Dan and I to do the grunt work of squabbling over the same thing over the course of a few days and then finally deciding to repeat what we said, only saying it a little better, is satisfying in some way...

And then to you! DAN! I say POOP ON YOU! (yes I am too angry to use commas)

Are you not an English major? A literary scholar? Your earlier comments and rush to defend you boast made it sound to me like I wasn't allowed to add a little time-line into your boast and discuss the "literary" boast in a "scholarly" fashion.

Example - Why should I not be allowed to use hindsight just because you didn't write with hindsight? Why can't I bring my experiences to the table and have them be treated as legitimately as yours, you bastard with a caca spewing nostrils?

So now I will sit back at the office and click refresh for hours untill you twits respond to my astounding observations about how much caca you spew per hour!!!

andy said...

A lot of my thought right now comes from certain Sociological Schools. I realize that by invoking them, I have a 16% chance of summoning the Sociologist (and you both KNOW who I mean); however, I intend to take that chance.

I think Social Conflict theory can be easily assigned to the conflicts of the past one hundred years. Granted, there are probably better ways to describe each unique conflict, but on the whole the notion of conflict over positions of power seem relevant in each case. Marx would idealize that the best way to fix it would be a completely egalitarian society. I would argue that such a society is not possible without (at the least) sufficiently advanced technology and an infinite supply of energy (that is the Star Trek talking there, gentlemen).

Even then, I think that (based on my completely unfounded understanding of humanity) as a species, humans are very conflict oriented. Sure, we can work well in groups, but there always has to be some threat to drive the group. I will also admit that these groups grow slowly over time, probably related to the advancement of communication. Nonetheless, no matter how large our workable groups become, we will always be engaged in some conflict over resources or ideas; it will always boil down to a struggle over power (in the abstract).

I think the past ten years have demonstrated that. With the fall of the Soviet Union, there was no major threat to oppose American (or, more neutrally, "Western") ideals. From the smallest corners of the world came groups, each one struggling to "grow up" and face the giant. We have groups in Africa, the Middle East, and Northeast Asia, not to mention friction with China and India. Everybody wants to be number one but there is not enough in the world for that to happen. So, a few years of quite ended with a boom; the war on terror. We even did it a decent thing and over-organized it, pulling people into the conflict and affiliating groups that may have previously been unrelated. Hell, we even gave them a name: The Axis of Evil. How Iran, Iraq, and North Korea became a cohesive unit goes beyond conventional understanding, but they became the bad guy that needed defeating. Moreover, they all became representative of the new ideal we wanted to destroy: terror.

So what I hope to say is that when the aliens come, we will fight. But it may not be that simple. More than likely, be the aliens peaceful, we will fight amongst ourselves, some of humanity allying with the new alien visitors and some not. Or maybe we will bring our decisive and conflicted nature to another species. We will make them fight because fighting is what we do.

D.C.V. Bethel said...

I agree with Andrew with his initial statement of humanity being naturally drawn to conflict, but I don't necessarily think that "fighting is what we do."

As is proven by Eben's propensity to keep prodding me (and in behavior I've witnessed by him to others), even those that are idealistic enough to think that war could end (and thank god for them!) can be provocateurs by nature. I am of the mind that most war is indeed unjustified, and that all-out war is the response of passionate people unhindered by a docile demeanor and a logical mind.

Most people are naturally combative because it's been redressed and supported by American society as "competition." Screw competition, why can't we just work together? Why is it good that someone always has to be the best, why does there always have to be a winner and a loser? I feel that I'm being more idealistic at Eben and this point, but it's a dream that I find comforting.

Eben said...

Sheesh... you guys sure like to point fingers without pointing them... what sociologist are you hoping to summon? Hal Belch? or Mr. Leonard again?


Anyway...
I sometimes think war is done because it is easier (right word?) than diplomacy. It is sort of like the draw to gambling vs. working.

War is risky, you may not achieve the results you want, and you are likely to lose before you win.
Gambling is the same way.

Diplomacy is hard work. It is very hard to please everybody, it can take longer, but as long as you try and try and try, you can usually find a common ground to work from. You probably won't get exactly what you want, but you probably won't lose too much either...

Work is about the same. You work hard, save your pennies, and most people can lead a comfortable life. They might not win the BMW circling around the slot machines.. but they could probably afford a nice Honda hybrid and impress their friends.


My other feeling about alien visitors is if they come, who's to say they will not of suffered through evolution and survival of the fittest, and are also pre-disposed to conflict. Earth could just be another yummy source of war.
Does technology aid evolution into something non-competitive? Isn't Star Trek still have problems with conflict despite their technology? Don't they make assumptions on cultures that they are not ready to receive the blessings of their society? They seek out new worlds, but if the new worlds unless the world is too dumb to know what a phaser does... it does the same thing as an arrow and bow, except with a sharp push of a thumb.

I'm going to think about competition for a bit. I think I have an idea about it but it needs some thinking on... unlike bashing Star Trek...