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Graeme Wood and a symmetry in Dallas

Monday, August 14th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — on writers and analysts, via Dallas, Syria, Wagner, Bayreuth, Hitler and Israel ]
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The symmetry is between two men that Graeme Wood has profiled in The AtlanticRichard Spencer and John Georgelas aka Yahya Abu Hassan, leader of the alt-right and early American proponent of ISIS, respectively:

Both men are the only sons of wealthy north-Dallas physicians. They both bloomed late, intellectually and politically, and overcompensated by immersing themselves in books and ideas with gusto uncommon among their bourgeois demographic. Both admired Ron Paul, and both saw their home country as a broken land — and themselves as its savior.

They are also both young.

You can read about them both in greater detail in Wood’s twin accounts here:

  • Wood profiles Richard Spencer, His Kampf
  • Wood profiles John Georgelas, The American Climbing the Ranks of ISIS
  • **

    When I worked at John L Petersen‘s think tank The Arlington Institute, the boss often used to ask me for a “leading indicator” — and I’d reply that one data point seldom meant anything to me, whereas two in parallel or opposition might indicate a trend. My motto became “two is the first number” — a mantram I’ve repeated here from time to time [1, 2, 3], finding notable backup in Aristotle, Carl Jung, and the Ismaili Rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa’, as reported in my post It is always good to find oneself in good company.

    Graeme Wood must feel some satisfaction in having written profiles of two such opposite yet well-matched men as Georgelas and Spencer — I certainly take delight in the pairing — and the parallelism is truly quite striking. Yet to deduce a trend from the observation that both are “only sons of wealthy north-Dallas physicians” isn’t grounds for alerting the FBI to profile — let alone surveil — all other such only sons.

    Sometimes a coincidence is just a coincidence.

    And yet, and yet.

    Graeme Wood is a writer, not an analyst, and while the specifics here — “only son”, “north-Dallas physician” — do not in themselves provide “actionable intelligence” for intel purposes, the two stories as Wood spells them out enrich our analytic understanding of the drivers that may be in play in the recruitment of extremists and terrorists.

    **

    I have a small and tattered pamphlet in my desk, 1876 – 1896, Die ersten zwanzig Jahre der Bayreuther Bühnenfestspiele by Houston Stewart Chamberlain, who later married Richard Wagner‘s daughter Eva von Bülow.

    Chamberlain’s pamphlet about Wagner’s operas and the theater he built for them in Bayreuth, published there in Bayreuth in 1896, is not his best-known work, however. That would be his two-volume work, Die Grundlagen des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts, or The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century — published in the same year, 1899, as Freud‘s Die Traumdeutung — which was to provide Nazism with some of its anti-Semitic ideology. Of similar interest, his 1905 Aryan Worldview.

    Chamberlain’s letter to Hitler in 1923 has to my ear some resonance with discussions of Donald Trump today:

    Now I believe I understand that it is precisely this that characterizes and defines your being: the true awakener is at the same time the bestower of peace.

    You are not at all, as you have been described to me, a fanatic. In fact, I would call you the complete opposite of a fanatic. The fanatic inflames the mind, you warm the heart. The fanatic wants to overwhelm people with words, you wish to convince, only to convince them-and that is why you are successful. Indeed, I would also describe you as the opposite of a politician, in the commonly accepted sense of the word, for the essence of all politics is membership of a party, whereas with you all parties disappear, consumed by the heat of your love for the fatherland. It was, I think, the misfortune of our great Bismarck that he became, as fate would have it (by no means through innate predisposition), a little too involved in politics. May you be spared this fate.

    **

    I am chasing down byways of history and culture here to be sure — and it is not my intention to make a facile comparison between Trump and Hitler. But Wagner — surely it is interesting to note that not only were Hitler and Chamberlain obsessed with Wagner’s operas, but Graeme Wood’s account of Spencer notes that at one point Richard Spencer worked as “a gofer at the Bavarian State Opera”.

    Echo? Parallelism? Kinship?

    Wagner is a cultural influence of connsiderable strength — as an Alex Ross article in the New Yorker, The Case for Wagner in Israel, notred in 2012:

    In recent decades, musicians have periodically attempted to play Wagner in Israel, setting off impassioned protests; Na’ama Sheffi’s book “The Ring of Myths: The Israelis, Wagner, and the Nazis” gives an account of them. At an Israel Philharmonic concert in 1981, Zubin Mehta, after giving audience members an opportunity to leave the hall, conducted the “Liebestod” from “Tristan und Isolde” as an encore; in response, Ben-Zion Leitner, a Holocaust survivor and a hero of the First Arab-Israeli War, walked in front of the podium, bared his scarred stomach, and shouted, “Play Wagner over my body.” Similarly charged scenes unfolded when Daniel Barenboim led the “Tristan” Prelude in Jerusalem in 2001. This past summer, an effort by the Israel Wagner Society to present a concert at Tel Aviv University created yet another media frenzy; in the end, the university withdrew its permission, and plans to move the event to a Hilton subsequently fell through. The Israeli conductor Asher Fisch, who was to have led the concert, has personal reasons for campaigning against the unwritten ban: his mother, who was forced to leave Vienna in 1939, felt that if her son could conduct Wagner in Israel it would amount to a final victory over Hitler, and he still hopes to realize her dream.

    **

    An author’s skilled meanderings in cultural associations may not make for actionable intelligence, but they do provide invaluable context for the overt tides and little known undertows of human history.

    Which in turn affect us all, and which we in turn may wish to affect or deflect..

    Human Sacrifice South of the Border?

    Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

    [Mark Safranski / “zen“]

    John P. Sullivan and Dr. Robert Bunker at Small Wars Journal analyze a narco prison riot in Mexico that had to be put down by Mexican troops that reportedly involved prisoners sacrificed in a Santa Muerte ritual.

    Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 23: Prison Riot and Massacre in Acapulco, Guerrero; Attack Allegedly During Santa Muerte Ritual

    Analysis:
    This prison riot and resulting massacre is one of the most serious disturbances in a Mexican prison since the February 2016 riot at Monterrey’s Topo Chico prison.  That incident, which involved a battle between Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, left at least 52 dead and 12 injured.[4] Mexico’s prisons are volatile, plagued by corruption, and under minimal control by state authorities.[5] This lack of control leads to inmate self-governance (autogobierno).  According to one account, 60% of Mexican correctional facilities function under self-governance.[6] 

    In this incident taking place at the Acapulco jail or Cereso (Centro de Readaptación Social),[7] rival gangs battling for control led to a massacre with several persons (up to five, depending upon reports) beheaded.[8] The guards reportedly did not intervene and may have participated in or facilitated the violence.[9] The massacre reportedly occurred during inmate rituals in veneration of Santa Muerte.[10] Prison officials have not confirmed those reports.[11] 

    Guerrero’s governor supports the ritual aspect, noting that the majority of the dead were found in front of Santa Muerte coins which is indicative of ritual participation:

    “Es difícil encontrar en los medios mexicanos más referencias concretas al aspecto ritual de la masacre. En Bajo Palabra leemos que el gobernador del estado de Guerrero, Héctor Astudillo Flores, ha descartado la riña como motivo, aunque fuera la primera línea de investigación, y ha afirmado que la mayoría de muertos fueron encontrados frente a una imagen de la Santa Muerte con monedas encima, por lo que consideran que se trataría de un ritual.”[12] 

    ….The actual role the veneration or worship of Santa Muerte played in this riot is unknown. The limited news imagery of the decapitated and slaughtered prisoners does not provide enough forensic evidence to suggest that any form of elaborate ritual took place.  If such a hasty sacrificial ritual had been conducted, it may have been undertaken simply for narcoterrorist purposes in order to terrify the opposing drug gang with the future threat of ‘human sacrifice’ being directed at their membership.  This explanation would be devoid of any form of an underlying spiritual basis and can simply be viewed as an extreme component of narco psychological operations (PSYOPS) being waged by one drug gang against another.  On the other hand, this incident may be eventually confirmed as an act of mass human sacrifice derived from the new information now emerging:

    Read the rest here.

    The juxtaposition of extreme violence and religious context is a potent combination in terms of imaginative symbolism because it harkens back to the human sacrifices of Bronze Age paganism. This action may have been secular violence meant to terrify cartel rivals but the repeated association with religious cult ritual – in this case, the Mexican folk worship of “Saint Death” – blurs the lines between criminal irregular violence and religion. This tactic is also a calling card of ISIS as well as the narc0-cartels.

    For more on irregular violence and cult practices, see this post as well as for a longer treatment,  Blood Sacrifices: Violent Non-State Actors and Dark Magico-Religious Activities edited by Robert Bunker (and featuring chapters by Charles Cameron and myself).

    A real-life situation not unlike the trolley problem

    Saturday, July 22nd, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — a koan for our western world ]
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    This description of a patient with an aneurysm is from British neurosurgeon Henry Marsh‘s book, Do No Evil, excerpted here:

    If we did nothing the patient might eventually suffer a haemorrhage which would probably cause a catastrophic stroke or kill her. But then she might die years away from something else without the aneurysm ever having burst. She was perfectly well at the moment, the headaches for which she had had the scan were irrelevant and had got better. The aneurysm had been discovered by chance. If I operated I could cause a stroke and wreck her – the risk of that would probably be about four or ?ve per cent. So the acute risk of operating was roughly similar to the life­time risk of doing nothing. Yet if we did nothing she would have to live with the knowledge that the aneurysm was sitting there in her brain and might kill her any moment.

    **


    The trolley problem: should you pull the lever to divert the runaway trolley onto the side track?

    **

    What would Jesus do?

  • neurosurgery?
  • trolley?
  • What would Bodhidharma do?
    What would Solomon do?
    Can we really transport ourselves that far back in time and that far across in culture?
    What would the outcome be if Somerset Maugham were telling this tale?
    What would you do?

    I am so thankful I am not a neurosurgeon.

    Zen (ie dhyana, ch’an, not Mark!) is supposed, somehow — via koan practice — to prepare you for situations like the neurosurgical one described above.

    That brings salvation vividly into the here and now.

    Jihadi religion & culture — work and play mebbe?

    Tuesday, July 4th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — nothing quite like first unpacking a box filled with copies of a book you sent off months ago! ]
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    Point focus:

    Peripheral vision:

    Two important new books — I have to say, I’m dying to read the Hegghammer, have the Maher on a close-to-hand reference shelf.

    Break it Down Show – Bill Mankins

    Tuesday, May 16th, 2017

    [Mark Safranski / “zen“]

    An episode that will interest those who study all things Afghanistan, COIN, irregular warfare, cultural-linguistic competency, rural environments, HUMINT, insurgency, PME and similar topics,  Jon and Pete interview Bill Mankins at the Break it Down Show:

    159 – Bill Mankins

    “One of our most compelling guests to date. You’ve never heard Bill Mankins story and that’s about to change.  Bill gets modern combat at a level that you cannot find anywhere else. Fox News, CNN, NPR have all had a chance to get Bill to sit with them and break down the most complex social, military, religious problems anyone can imagine, and they all passed. They didn’t know a great story when it was right in front of them. Nobody but the Break It Down Show has this level of depth and quality…NOBODY The show really breaks into 3 parts.  If you want, skip ahead to Minute 51:30 and get to what Bill is working on…then go back and see why he’s the man for the job…AGAIN this level of clarity, this depth, you’re in for a treat.  Bring a bucket for when your brain explodes.”

    Tune in here.

    Mankins is spot on in his commentary on the overemphasis of STEM in PME vice humanities and language that provide some understanding of others.


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