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Pinker, Blake and Moebius

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — looks like I’ll have an “Author’s blog” up soon to accompany a book I’m working on, and it’ll be called “Seeing Double” — which is what this post is about ]
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Steven Pinker, I’m sorry to say, appears to be one of those

One can imagine a world in which oracles, soothsayers, prophets, popes, visionaries, imams, or gurus have been vouchsafed with the truth which only they possess and which the rest of us would be foolish, indeed, criminal, to question. History tells us that this is not the world we live in. Selfproclaimed truthers have repeatedly been shown to be mistaken — often comically so — by history, science, and common sense.

The characters I’m interested in here are the visionaries — and my point is that truth as fact is not the only truth there is.

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Can “history, science and common sense” really detract from the “truth” of this image by Blake?

Blake_De_antro_nympharum_Tempera_Arlington_Court_Devon

or this, by Moebius?

Moebius Floating City

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Pinker is interesting — that single para of his just gave me a chance to rant — so let me return you to his whole piece.

I have other disagreements with him, no doubt, but he’s a mind to be engaged with.

Brief brief: of binding and loosing

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — really just a note to myself, but you may read it over my shoulder ]
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Joas Wagemakers, blogging on Jihadi-Salafi views of the Islamic State at the Washington Post, was talking about the “caliphate” today, and as usual, I went off on my own DoubleQuoting tangent:

SPEC DQ bind and loose

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Here’s Wagemakers’s para that triggered the above:

In 2014 the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria set itself apart from most other radical Islamist groups by actually settling in a certain territory and establishing a state there. The group even declared a caliphate on June 29 and changed its name simply to the Islamic State (IS). Even al-Qaeda, which has long had similar ambitions to establish a caliphate encompassing all Muslims, has never achieved this. In its justification for the announcement of its caliphate, IS has made use of classical Islamic concepts: its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had been vetted by a group of scholars described as “the people who loosen and bind” (ahl al-hall wa-l-aqd), was found by them to be a pious Muslim ruler who fit all the criteria for a caliph and was therefore worthy of believers’ oath of allegiance (baya).

Do I detect an echo here, between the two phrases — or is the concept of loosing and binding so basic to human experience that it crops up all over?

It’s a question at the intersection of two of my fields of special interest — depth psychology and cultural anthro — see for example Anthony Stevens, writing under the subtitle Archetypes versus cultural transmission:

Essentially, the theory can be stated as a psychological law: whenever a phenomenon is found to be characteristic of all human communities, it is an expression of an archetype of the collective unconscious. It is not possible to demonstrate that such universally apparent phenomena are exclusively due to archetypal determinants or entirely due to cultural diffusion, because in all probability both are involved. However, the likelihood is that there will be a strong bias for those phenomena which are archetypally determined to diffuse more readily and more lastingly than those that are not.

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Now go read Wagemakers.

Of morale, angels and Spartans

Saturday, January 17th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — how sky differs from heaven, and what that means for morale and jihad ]
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SPEC Badr & Spartans

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Okay, that Spartans / Battle of Badr DoubleQuote above is just a teaser, locating us in the general zone of morale..

What I’d really like to offer you here is another Badr-related DoubleQuote, of which the first part comes from Shadi Hamid, speaking about half way through the Charlie Rose show, A conversation about Islam and politics with Reza Aslan, Will McCants, Michael Hanna and Shadi Hamid, which aired on the 14th of this month (full video at the bottom of this post). He said:

We have to take religion seriously, but I worry sometimes, if we focus too much on religion we forget that there’s a political context. That if we want to understand the rise of Isis we can’t understand that without looking at the political vacuum that emerged in Syria. That didn’t happen by itself; there’s a series of policy decisions from the international community that helped contribute to the rise of ISIS.

So I guess the interesting question then is, How does religion interact with these political factors. So we have to bring those different variables into focus and I think we lose some of that, we lose that complexity if we’re just saying Islam is the problem. On the other hand, though .. these terrorists and extremists, they believe that what they’re doing, they’re going to be granted direct entry into Paradise, and that inspiration, motivation, is a very powerful thing that we shouldn’t underestimate. And ideology in this sense is a sort of force multiplier on the battlefield.

All of that seems relevant to me, but it’s his next few phrases I want to DoubleQuote (upper panel, below):

SPEC DQ Shadi Hamid & Quran

And whereas Hamid’s explanation, as befits a Brookings Fellow refers to a belief about Paradise, the Qur’an, as befits sacred scripture, treats the world as though it is thronged not with beliefs but with angels..

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The comparison and contrast between our conntemporary, post-Enlightenment view of “the sky” (in which birds, planes, helicopters, missiles and drones may be found, but no angels, jinn, apsarases or faeries) and that of the world’s various scriptural and mythological “heavens” (in which helicopters and parachutes are generally absent, though angels, demons, gandharvas, apsarases and the rest abound) is one that has long fascinated me — but the two are usually kept distinct. Albrecht Durer will show you angels and demons just above the rural countryside in “heaven” — but you won’t find them in military aviations journals..

It is against that background that I find this piece of artwork about the Ghazwa e-Hind so interesting — it appears to envision both “sky” with its various planes and parachutist (most of the planes a little dated, alas), and “heaven” with its celestial cavalry, occupying the same visual space:

Great Ghazwa Sky meets Heaven

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All this leads me to the question — which would seem to become ever more urgent as we move from textual to visually enhanced modes of communication —

How does one graphically depict morale or esprit de corps?

That’s my question for the day.

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Here, for those who would like to view it in its entirety, is the Charlie Rose show from which Shadi Hamid’s quote above was taken:

Smiley on defeating ideologues

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — with application to today’s tragic massacre in Paris, to IS, AQ, Breivik, whoever ]
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fanatic secret doubt Tinker Tailor
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That’s George Smiley describing Karla‘s fatal flaw, in the crucial scene from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the film version with Gary Oldman as George Smiley.

We are not so very different, you and I. We’ve both spent our lives looking for the weaknesses in one another’s systems. Don’t you think it’s time to recognize there is as little worth on your side as there is on mine? Never said a word. Not one word.

And that’s how I know he can be beaten. Because he’s a fanatic. And the fanatic is always concealing a secret doubt.

The Le Carré book version has it a little differently, FWIW:

And if you want a sermon, Karla is not fireproof, because he’s a fanatic. And one day, if I have anything to do with it, that lack of moderation will be his downfall.

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Bonus: Smiley on symmetry and asymmetry:

Smiley speaks to Karla<, wishing to turn him:

We are not so very different, you and I. We’ve both spent our lives looking for the weaknesses in one another’s systems. Don’t you think it’s time to recognize there is as little worth on your side as there is on mine? Never said a word. Not one word.

Turning analytic bifocals on the Islamic State’s Irregulars

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — IS / Daesh focus is not on the question of derangement but of repentance – Dabiq #6, Aquinas, adaequatio ]
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Lindt police
Lindt cafe worker escapes Man Haron Monis hostage situation, Sydney – credit Jason Reed, Reuters

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It’s interesting to compare how we think about those like Man Haron Monis on the cusp between derangement, criminality, terrorism and jihad, and how IS views them.

JM Berger remarks of those he classifies as The Islamic State’s Irregulars:

in a number of these cases, it’s unclear whether the attacks were inspired by the Islamic State and its extremist ideology, or whether IS provided a convenient excuse for violence that was already brewing in the hearts of the perpetrators.

while his subtitle asks:

What should we do with lone-wolf attackers who are mentally unstable or deranged? Are they terrorists, too?

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Berger, among our most discerning analysts and co-author with Jessica Stern of the keenly awaited book, ISIS: The State of Terror, describes Monis as:

a Shiite Muslim born in Iran who had emigrated to Australia. He had been charged in 2013 as an accessory to murder and faced dozens of sexual assault charges related to his “spiritual healing” practice. His own lawyer described him as “unhinged.”

Clearly, the waves of influence running amok in Monis’ head are nowhere near as simply as our routine categorizations – that he was IS, or simply a terrorist, a mental case, a criminal, a murderer perhaps – would like to suggest. Our best inquiry is into his mental state, his psychological “drivers” – how we can understand him, with easy categorization the sound-bite version providing closure.

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The Islamic State views him differently. As described in the sixth issue of their magazine, Dabiq, he is clearly a religious hero, specifically a martyr:

It didn’t take much; he got hold of a gun and stormed a café taking everyone inside hostage. Yet in doing so, he prompted mass panic, brought terror to the entire nation, and triggered an evacuation of parts of Sydney’s central business district. The blessings in his efforts were apparent from the very outset.

Dabiq then paints western media diagnoses made against him as slurs:

Then, as the situation developed and his identity was revealed, we saw a predictable response from the international media. They immediately began searching for anything negative that they could use against him, and subsequently began reporting numerous allegations made against him in an attempt to smear his character and, by extension, the noble cause that he was fighting for – the cause of Allah (ta’?l?).

And then something interesting occurs. Dabiq, half-admitting the accuracy of some of those slurs, defends him not by denying their accuracy but by framing them in the context of repentance and divine mercy:

The fact is, however, that any allegations leveled against a person concerning their past are irrelevant as long as they hope for Allah’s mercy and sincerely repent from any previous misguidance.

This is so with one who embraces Islam and thereby has his past history of shirk and transgression completely erased – as was even the case with many Sahabah. So how much more so in the case of one who followed up his repentance by fighting and being killed in the path of Allah, knowing the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) declared that such a person would be forgiven the moment his blood is first spilled.

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“He was deranged, violent, driven, and IS became the hook on which he hanged himself” – or “His sacrificial death absolved him from all flaws and sins”. The contrast is instructive.

It seems best for us to to wear secular / sacred bifocals in our analyses. But how does the analyst gain that faculty which EF schumacher, Thomas Aquinas and Augustine call adaequatio rei et intellectus

according to which to each plane of reality there corresponds an instrument of knowledge adequate to the task of knowing that particular level of reality

??


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