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One serpent, one equivalence, for Trump

Friday, September 1st, 2017

{ by Charles Cameron — the pardon ouroboros, the antifa / neo-Nazi equivalence ]
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A couple of issues of form cropped up for me this morning in WaPo — one from today, one from yesterday, carried over.

Let’s start with Jennifer Rubin. Her headline, Trump may get bitten by his own abuse of the pardon power, comes close to calling Trump a serpent, if like me you think of “self-biting” in terms of the ourobotos. Of course, Ms Rubin may not think like me..

I don’t see any further serpent references in Rubin’s piece, though, but I did find a Pharaoh reference:

To the contrary, as far as I understand, most of Arpaio’s most egregious conduct will go unpunished. Combined with his frequent attacks on the judiciary, this latest episode will no doubt harden Pharaoh’s proverbial heart.

There are serpents in the Old Testament too, Jennifer.

Oh God, there’s an impeachment reference if the Dems take over the House.And reverends are already all but calling for civil war in that eventuality…

Argh.

**

And then — back to issues of form — there’s Marc Thiessen, Yes, antifa is the moral equivalent of neo-Nazis. Moral equivalences are frequently contested. and often “read into” statements of comparisons that aren’t necessarily intended to imply equivalence. Here, the claim of moral equivalence is specific — it’s right there in the title.

It’s interesting that the article itself bases the equivalence on terming Antifa communist:

Mark Bray, a Dartmouth lecturer who has defended antifa’s violent tactics, recently explained in The Post, “Its adherents are predominantly communists, socialists and anarchists” who believe that physical violence “is both ethically justifiable and strategically effective.” In other words, they are no different from neo-Nazis.

Well okay — communist equals Nazi, right? — from that oerspective, case closed.

But are there other perspectives?

Antifa equals Neo-Nazis, right? Could be — but my question is whether Antifa would exist if Neo-Nazis hadn’t already shown up. Does that make a difference? WHo struck th first blow, so to speak? Or is it a simple matter pof two forms of extreme violence, mirroring eachg other.

Mirroring: another formal property to watch for,

Sabrina Tavernise – A Story with heart

Sunday, August 27th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — a story with heart — what other kind is there? — beautifully written, too ]
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Sabrina Tavernise has a wonderful, heart-felt story in the NYT today, titled The Two Americans: Abraham never fit in. Hisham finally felt at home. Then their worlds collided in western Arkansas. I’d have pointed you to it anyway — it’s deeply moving — but this parallelism observed really struck me:

The mosque’s phone started ringing, and didn’t stop. Churches called. A synagogue called. Buddhists called. So did residents who had seen the news or simply driven by. One man called, crying. His daughter had seen the graffiti on her way to work and told him about it. He said the vandals could not have been Christians. No true Christian would have done it.

Anas Bensalah, a mosque member who had taken the day off to help with the cleanup, told the man that he understood completely: That was exactly how he felt every time there was an attack by the Islamic State.

**

I’m collecting tales of forgiveness — not exactly miraculous forgiveness, but forgiveness where one might not necessarily expect it. Mandela-style forgiveness.

In its mild way, this is one such tale. Recommended: The Two Americans

Orwell, Fascism, &c – we need our own red lines, but where?

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — how far gone are we — from a sorta leftist-centrist-don’t-really-fit-labels POV? ]
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I’m not sure what exactly JM was responding to here, there have been too many pointers..

**

I for one don’t think Charlottesville stacks up against Kristallnacht, and am wary of the words Fascism and Nazi. I wholeheartedly agree with JM Berger in his piece today, Calling them Nazis:

There’s an increasingly common argument online against referring to the alt-right by its chosen name. “Call them Nazis” is the refrain. If you haven’t said it yourself, you’ve probably seen other people saying it.

While this approach may be understandable and may suit certain rhetorical purposes, it’s a grave mistake for journalists and experts who substantively study and cover the movement to embrace this approach.

JM continues:

The alt-right category is extremely important to understanding what’s happening in this movement. Nazis are only part of this movement, or more correctly neo-Nazis, since most of them aren’t German nationalists. If neo-Nazis were America’s only problem, it would be a much smaller problem.

**

My concern here is with a somewhat different angle, and not specifically with the Charlottesville clashes. I’m noting the widespread tendency to suggest we’re already in Brownshirt territory, if not deeper in than that, and I think it may be a bit premature.

IMO, we need to be cautious in where we draw the lines that say, beyond here is Fascism, or Nazism, it seems to me: exaggeration only serves to discredit those who indulge.

There are real problems, both with overt swastika-wavers and with those who support or merely tolerate them. Which way the wind will blow over the coming few years, however, is yet to be seen.

**

However, getting back to Orwell

— it does seem to me that scooping up more than a million IP addresses of epople who may have an interest in protesting Trump gies way beyond some kind of Orwell Limit.

Orwell kept his resistance movement cellular and basically unnowable: datamining the web blows an enormous hole in that strategy.

I’d have to say that with today’s news about DOJ vs DisruptJ20, one of my personal Orwell Red Lines has been crossed.

O Florida, Florida!

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — with application to paras from JM Berger & WIll McCants ]
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Two from Florida, both yesterday!

Really!

**

The kid who converts from Neo-Nazi to Islam and then kills his disrespectful roomies makes for a brilliant & provocative case study, becaause it so confounds our usual expectations.

Consider. We are used to the idea of otherwise unexceptional people joining extremist groups, religious or political — we term the process “radicalization”. And under the banner of “countering violent extremism” we encourage people to leave violent extremist groups and fade back into the normal fabric of society — some become anti-extremist messengers, Kerry Noble and Maajid Nawaz being well known examples. And both coming and going, there’s the little matter of messaging — messaging for radicaliziation, messaging for deradicalization.

But converting from a far-right political ideology to militant Islam? What kind of process us that, and what kind of messaging is involved, or called for?

I want to focus in on this poor dumb kid Devon Arthurs because he offers an almost too-good-to-be-true instance of two significant ideas from two of our finest analysts.

**

Let’s take Will McCants first.

McCants’ point is that every jihadist (and every extremist, by extension) is subject to a wide mix of drives, some more potent than others, but none of which should be viewed as the exclusive “explanation” for radicalization. As he writes in a gobbit that is now pinned to the top of his twitter-feed:

The disappoint stems from the desire to attribute the jihadist phenomenon to a single cause rather than to several causes that work in tandem to produce it. To my mind, the most salient are these: a religious heritage that lauds fighting abroad to establish states and to protect one’s fellow Muslims; ultraconservative religious ideas and networks exploited by militant recruiters; peer pressure (if you know someone involved, you’re more likely to get involved); fear of religious persecution; poor governance (not type of government); youth unemployment or underemployment in large cities; and civil war. All of these factors are more at play in the Arab world now than at any other time in recent memory, which is fueling a jihadist resurgence around the world.

If anyone elevates one of those factors above the others to diagnose the problem, you can be certain the resulting prescription will not work. It may even backfire, leading to more jihadist recruitment, not less.

That’s the general case: but you could hardly have a better instance of how sui generis the process is than our case of the young Neo-Nazi turned Muslim.

**

Things get even more interesting, however, when we see how this case fits with a point JM Berger has been at pains to meke recently. In Extremist Construction of Identity: How Escalating Demands for Legitimacy Shape and Define In-Group and Out-Group Dynamics, JM expresses his growing sense that extremism should be studied as a category unto itself — that we should not limit our studies to such brands as “Islamic extremism” or “Right Wing extremism”. He writes:

More broadly, this paper is a first step in developing and testing the hypothesis that extremist group radicalisation represents an identifiable process that can be understood as distinct from the contents of a movement’s ideology. That is not to say that the content of an ideology is meaningless or unimportant. Rather, this research seeks to explore whether universal processes of radicalisation provide a more useful window into why identity-based extremist movements form in the first place and how they evolve toward violence.

In the case of Devon Arthurs we have someone who doesn’t only espouse one extremism, but two, in rapid succession. And thus it is plausible to say that it is not Nazism, nor violent extremist Islam, that attracts him, but extremism as such.

Thinking through our ideas about narratives in radicalization and derad with Arthurs as our instance, raises all sorts of questions: what messaging if any do the Neo-Nazis and Jihadists have in common? What message allows someone to slip from one camp in to the other? And what messaging would be an effectove counterbalance not to one ideology or the other, but to the general propensity for extremism?

All in all, this kid makes for a fabulous case study in the ease with which our assumptions can deceive us.

**

Sources:

  • CBS News, Cops: Florida man kills neo-Nazi roommates over Islam disrespect
  • RawStory, FBI busts ‘Atomwaffen’ Neo-Nazi in Florida for making explosives
  • Dank ponds and high places in the garden of forking paths

    Sunday, April 16th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — Borges’ finest fiction, read with an eye to serpents within serpents ]
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    The pre-conscious mind, it seems to me, runs innumerable options before providing a single, first conscious selection, an initial thought, which we can then ourselves choose or dismiss, swaying away from whatever tendency we might dislike in that first choice, with alternatives then provided until we settle on a thought we can live with — whether because it suits our lust, our liking, our laughter, our love, or — simplest — love itself. The whole enterprise resembles, literarily speaking, Jorge Luis BorgesGarden of Forking Paths [link is to a deliciously annotated version, see more below].

    But here’s the thing: my mind, at least, offers me quite a mixed bag of lascivious, laughing, light-hearted and level-headed options, all unbidden, and while the courteous Chinese gentleman in Borges’ fine short story would surely only have a selection of insights suitable for the Yellow Empereor among the branchings of his garden’s paths, and his maze of thoughts itself sums up to a transcendant mind, on the wider, non-literary world stage and usual human level there are some pretty dank pools of stagnant ideation to be found, and some skulls among the living that choose to harbor and indeed nourish those pools, hoping their poisonous atmosphere may prove contagious.

    **

    I am driven to these thoughts by a report from yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald, Revealing the secrets of one of Australia’s worst online trolls.

    Ordinarily I might have scanned this account of an online neo-Nazi and moved on, but it contains a built-in ourboros or snake biting its own tail, when the former pulp magazine editor who lost his job after being persecuted for his affinity with Nazi dolls, and who lived alone in a rooming house, self-published a novel featuring, and I quote, “a former pulp magazine editor who lost his job after being persecuted for his affinity with Nazi dolls, and who lived alone in a rooming house..”

    Self-publishing is arguably a mildly neurotic ouroboric loop, but William Blake looped it, as did Martin Luther, Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, Marcel Proust, and Edward Tufte, to name a few..

    Self-publishing an autobiographical fiction, however, is more deeply loopy — for the ugly details, see the SMH piece.

    Gloriously, Borges reaches as high as the neo-Nazi stoops low: some hope remains for humanity.

    **

    Annotation “o” in the annotated version of The Garden of Forking Paths mentioned above offers us a further — and specifically rhetorical — form of ouroboros to contemplate:

    Linguists might classify the phrase “labyrinth of labyrinths” as an example of the genitive of gradation, as in the biblical “King of Kings,” from Daniel 2:37 (originally in Hebrew, “Melech ha-M’lachim”), I Timothy 4:14, and Revelations 17:14 and 19:16 (Curme, [6, p. 88]). Here the repetition of words conveys a sense of preeminence or superiority. A similar rhetorical device occurs earlier in line 30. But “centuries of centuries” might be more readily interpreted as a time span of hundreds of hundreds of years, constituting what is known as the partitive genitive, as in the “land of milk and honey.” Both usages are marvelously recursive, like “wheels within wheels,” and like the Thousand of One Nights, alluded to on line 230, which is a tale of a tale of a tale..

    Wheels within wheels — indeed, tiny wheels in a footnote to a larger one — at which point we are back at Ezekiel and his vision of the dry bones, from which I derive my own username, hipbone.

    **

    Fscinatingly, certain equivalent pieces on opposing sides of xiangqi, the Chinese chess game of the sort Borges’ Ts’ui Pên would have played, have different names, though “pieces on the same row in the table below share the same move and ability”:

    Their order of battle at the commencement of the game are as follows:

    I’m grateful to Robert R. Snapp, Associate Professor of Computer Science at the University of Vermont, for his outstanding contribution to this (mostly) delightful romp through the forking gardens of ideas..


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