Innocent Monsters

“Another such victory over the Romans, and we are undone.”Pyrrhus, from Plutarch’s Apophthegms
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  1. The rules and morals I was taught growing up were not meta-connected to anything, were not academically philosophical, were not debated and were - mainly - simply A=A. You did the right thing - you didn’t lie, cheat or steal, you helped someone in need of help, you never bullied, you paid your bills on time (without being reminded) - because they were the right thing and not doing them was the wrong thing. Why? “Because lying, et al., is wrong!” A=A. The closest we ever got to a supporting premise in my house was “how do you like it when someone lies to / bullies you?”

    “Clear Eyes and Full Hearts” has an element of that, of A=A, and, while (I’d like to think) I’ve dug deeper into the philosophy of morality than I was taught as a kid, there’s a lot of logic and common sense in A=A morals. I’d also like to believe I’ve been practicing a “Clear Eyes and Full Hearts” outlook even before Ben put words, logic and process behind it. What I wonder about is if that will be enough? If we don’t need a better plan to change the behavior at the top / to make not doing so “a terrible electoral strategy.” I have no answers to that, but was hoping others in our pack might as Voltaire’s just tilling the soil feels, I’ll just say it, a bit dispiriting.

  2. Avatar for ET82 ET82 says:

    This is excellent analysis, thank you. I wouldn’t expect to see this level of work outside corporate intelligence, fancy political-risk firms, and maybe niche defense think tanks. I only wish DoD had developed this level of sophistication for looking at opensource information when I was still around. About the closest imitation we could pull off was the COIN spaghetti slide:

    That slide is almost a decade old and we’re still in Afghanistan pretending the next election or next sit-down with the Taliban will be the solution. Fair warning – This time they aren’t – can persist for a hellishly a long time. Which of course is why we are advised to come to grips with the “longsuffering willingness” needed to meet confront such circumstances. In many ways what Rusty is saying closely mirrors what guys like Michael A. Sheehan were talking about before and after 9/11. Sheehan did a full 20 in the Army, retired as Lt. Colonel, worked for Madeline Albright during the UN years, and was one of the few raising the alarm specifically about Bin Laden before 2001. I think it was him who advised the security community to ‘believe what they say’ regarding Al-Qaida’s declared intentions.

    Sheehan ended up assistant defense secretary for special ops and facilitating a lot of direct action counterterror work, but his pre-9/11 directive for what it takes to really deal with terrorism was straightforward: Sustained diplomatic pressure, political will and courage. Three things I do not see in great supply among those who hold power and influence in the US. This makes me assume the evolution of politically motivated violence we’re seeing at home is going to be handled in much the same way that our prolonged War on Terror has unfolded. I’m visualizing trillions of dollars of spaghetti that doesn’t ever seem to stick to the wall while the sauce boils over and burns red all over the stove.

    I just learned Sheehan died earlier this year. Guess I better take a look at his book ‘Crush the Cell: How to Defeat Terrorism Without Terrorizing Ourselves’ from circa 2008. Sure would be handy if that ‘Without’ part is at all possible.

  3. Avatar for ET82 ET82 says:

    You make me think of ‘The Grand Inquisitor’ from Brothers Karamazov. A powerful tale about living by one’s own principles irrespective of others. Of course, performing miracles in public undermines behaviors at the top and must promptly be eliminated. But to believe for a moment that the impenetrable faith of the unknown stranger would overwhelm any Inquisitor feels like a quite a vanity. They woulda immolated every particle of the guy.

    So I guess martydom is not a particularly desirable answer either. Although the non-competitive nature of faith is occupying my thoughts quite a lot lately. Doesn’t feel dispiriting. Does feel intimidating. Anybody know where that mustard seed went?

    [Full Disclosure: The extent of my reading of Dostoevsky consists of the single chapter about the Inquisitor.]

  4. Hi Rusty, nice piece. As someone who has spent most of their adult life in Milwaukee, WI, where in 2012 a gunman killed six people in a Sikh temple, and Pittsburgh, where I used to pass that synagogue on my daily jog, it terrifies me how little this latest shooting has affected me emotionally - and that is coming from someone who tears up somewhat frequently. I drove by the synagogue yesterday and was mildly annoyed from the still massive media presence that caused traffic detours. I’m afraid that lack of feeling is becoming common amongst US citizens (it already is in places like North Korea, Brazil, etc…).

    Anyway, how would you respond to someone who has seen the scientific research showing that what people say and what people do are two entirely different things? How can you help them forget that research in the face of a need to bring people back together?

  5. Rusty, how to you resolve the disconnect of promoting “a longsuffering willingness to believe what other people say about their intentions” with your earlier claims that we should not take Dan Rather’s words at face value, and instead impute into those words an intention that may only be present in the mind of someone inclined not to read them at face value?

  6. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    Enoch, it’s a fair question, but I don’t think accepting people’s intent means we must become literalists with regard to language. In context, Rather has been pretty explicit elsewhere in saying that he sees a connection between support of GOP candidates and complicity in events like this. It is a rhetorically powerful statement, and so it has become much more common to hear “blood on their hands” propaganda from both political poles.

  7. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    Jason, resignation is a natural human response. 9/11 took place when I was in college. I was a musician, and was called to perform (an ugly word for it, but it’s what musicians do) at a number of memorial services - there were a lot of alumni of my school caught up in the towers. I remember this palpable feeling of emotion in the first one. We musicians connected with the crowd. There was an energy to it. A positive, life-affirming one. Then the second service. The third. It took three services to go from this solemn thing to a gig. A job.

    I’m not sure there’s a real answer to your last question, other than that I tend to think of any attempt to fight biology in analogs to dieting. We aren’t going to be able to change our wiring. We can change our disciplines. We can change our habits. We can change our processes. And we can change who we allow to hold us accountable. Everything else is really out of our conscious control.

  8. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    Really interesting analogy, Thomas! I was not nearly as familiar with Sheehan’s work, but I just ordered it. Thank you!

  9. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    I don’t think there’s any kind of incompatibility with a simple moral system. I’m more religious than Ben, so I frequently accuse him of stealing Clear Eyes / Full Hearts straight from Matthew 10:16. There are similar systems in other faiths that revolve around the power of both wisdom and humility, strength and tenderness, etc. All of our meta-jargon is simply more specific modern language for what these men would have been content to refer to as wisdom.

    It is dispiriting to say and hear that it’s going to get worse before it gets better. The sprig of hope, perhaps, is the belief that we can change how much worse it gets, and accelerate how quickly it gets better by creating a strong enough seed of like-minded people of similar commitment to civil society with potentially highly different views on its optimal organization.

  10. Thanks Rusty. On a different note, it would be nice if a notification was sent out to the commenter when there was a response to a their comment, rather than them having to check back; or perhaps I’m doing it wrong.

  11. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    Let me look into it!

  12. “Danger Danger Will Robinson!” Optimal organization may have unintended consequences even with the measured through-put of highly different civil views. We should avoid ‘you should…’.

  13. I’m sorry Rusty, but when I look at the above narrative map I see something far less balanced than you do.
    “False Flags” and “Character of our country” are both abstractions, I agree, but that’s where the similarity ends.

    Note how the “False Flags” cluster steadily repeats from the earliest days of this horror to the end of the measured period. Tellingly, it doesn’t change or fade as new facts develop (the way a natural, organic cluster would). It keeps banging away like a paid troll, whacking its spin onto each successive development.

    To quote Gimli, son of Gloin: “That is the sound of a hammer, or I have never heard one.”

    No other cluster is so clearly designed to widen the gyre of the American body politic, so clearly thumbing the scale, so clearly exogenous from reality.

    Let’s have some Clear Eyes and call this what it is, please: agitprop.

    And if that word doesn’t scare you, may I suggest some light reading on Jair Bolsonaro as a preview of we go when “the centre cannot hold.”

  14. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    Good thoughts, John!

    I understand why the False Flag cluster looks that way, but the graphical representation doesn’t really convey all of that. When you drill into the articles, the early False Flag stories are pretty monolithic - a bunch of idiotic conspiracy theorists, and the media covering them. Then, once the facts are revealed, the articles in this cluster flip on a dime to people dunking on the deserving idiotic conspiracy theorists. All of that’s happening in the same cluster. What could be interpreted on the surface as a sort of weaving of the “false flag” narrative through other stories and clusters in this case, or the narrative evolving, grasping at straws to find some new ground to take root in, is often as simple as articles talking about and discussing the false flag narrative in very unfavorable ways. Don’t get me wrong - I still think it’s the center of this narrative map, but the data underneath are not as clear cut as the graphical representation presents them. The later False Flag cluster articles are mostly people making fun of it.

    Interestingly, it’s actually the OTHER, smaller abstracted narrative that evolved in the persistent, hammer-strike way you describe, incorporating kinda/maybe/sorta related events in Pittsburgh and Louisville, incorporating upcoming elections, slowly changing it from a MAGABomber narrative to a Culpable Trump narrative to a GOP Has Blood On Its Hands narrative to a A Vote for GOP is a Vote for Violence narrative. This story is now 4 or 5 layers of abstractions away from its original stories, whereas the False Flag narrative thankfully died on the vine, just in time for all of us to make fun of Jacob Wohl.

    I think this is why it’s perilous to get into ‘who is more right’ distinctions in a Widening Gyre. It isn’t that right and wrong don’t matter. Of course they do - intensely. And the missionaries of the political right clearly created narratives that were more wrong, in most cases unethically so. Agitprop? Maybe, but I think even more pernicious because of the decentralized nature of the formation of these narratives. Missionaries as propagandists are far more insidious than a government, and far more difficult to control. Yet, even as the political left was more correct, they have since taken the narrative ball and are using it to widen the gyre even further, mostly unwittingly.

    This is the core argument of the piece, which you may or may not believe. And that’s OK. But I do: Even when we’re right, if we are not careful, this environment will use that to bad ends that ultimately cause us harm.

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