zenpundit.com » chicago boyz

Archive for the ‘chicago boyz’ Category

Terror Is Glamour as War is Game

Friday, March 18th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — on the necessary simultaneity of temporal and eternal perspectives ]
.

quote-terror-is-glamour-salman-rushdie

**

First as to glamour -– it may help to reflect that glamour, our word, comes not from Vogue but from the same origins as grammar (referring to languages) and grimoire (a book of spells, spelling also being a matter of language), and means something along the lines of “luminous illusion”. If we say terror is glamour, then, we mean that it “casts a spell” — and thus creates an appealing, indeed compelling, mirage. It lies, then, in the realm of magic, image, imagination, so ably delineated by Ioan Couliano in his great book, Eros and Magic in the Renaissance.

The best of contemporary advertising draws on precisely the same Renaissance principles of persuasion — principles of extraordinary power which we nowadays tend to dismiss as “magical thinking”.

**

Thus Virginia Postrel, in Terror Is Glamour:

Glamour can sell religious devotion or military glory as surely as it can pitch lipstick or island vacations. All promise a way to transcend our everyday circumstances, to experience more and become better than ordinary life allows. All invite us to imagine escape and transformation.

Postrel continues:

From Achilles and Alexander to “national greatness,” the glamour of battle is remarkably persistent. So is the glamour of martyrdom, as any trip through a Western museum or perusal of a Lives of the Saints (or its Protestant equivalent) will demonstrate. Nor is martyrdom’s appeal to Christians merely historical, as Eliza Griswold reported in this 2007 TNR piece.

Glamour appeals to our desires, whatever they may be, and Jihadi glamour offers something for everyone: from historical importance to union with God, not to mention riches and beautiful women.

Postrel then quotes Egyptian cleric Hazem Sallah Abu Isma’il, indicating that the “beautiful women” in question are “black-eyed virgins” from a world conceptually above our own:

If one of these virgins were to descend to this world, her light would extinguish the light of the sun and the moon. That’s how beautiful she is.

Yet as Postrel comments, “glamour proves perishable”:

As Rushdie suggests, of course, glamour always leaves something out, in this case the literally gory details of the act .. Either aspirations change, entropy and boredom set in, or the audience learns too much, destroying the mystery and grace on which glamour’s beautiful illusion depends.

She concludes with a significant question and preliminary response:

How do we puncture the glamour of Jihadi terrorism? The first step is recognizing that such glamour exists.

That may seem like CVE 101, but the deeper our understanding of magic, imagination, image — and hence the power of glamour — the deeper our understanding of the deep problem that CVE presents will become.

**

Next we turn to Richard Fernandez, writing in A Bellyful of War, picking up the themes of war’s attraction, and the carnage its glamour omits from mention, and tying both to the notions of war as game and war as brutal reality:

William Tecumseh Sherman understood what many modern theorists have forgotten: war can be attractive to young men for as long as long as it remains a game. War in small doses is supremely thrilling, even glamorous. It is peace which can be routine and boring.

And so it goes until war stops being a game and the going gets really rough. “Its glory is all moonshine,” said Sherman. “It is only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shriek and groans of the wounded and lacerated … that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation.” To Sherman a “bellyful of war” was ironically the psychological foundation of generational peace.

Not only is that last sentence a profound statement worthy of the contemplation of all who love peace – it is also far more subtly convincing than the old Strategic Air Command motto, Peace is Our Profession, which sounds more like one of Rochefoucauld’s tributes that vice pays to virtue than anything, and yet is presumably intended to convey the same insight.

**

Finally we have Plotinus, for whom – in a manner richly echoed by Shakespeare — life itself is a dream, a play, a sport, a game:

Murders, death in all its guises, the reduction and sacking of cities, all must be to us just such a spectacle as the changing scenes of a play; all is but the varied incident of a plot, costume on and off, acted grief and lament. For on earth, in all the succession of life, it is not the Soul within but the Shadow outside of the authentic man, that grieves and complains and acts out the plot on this world stage which men have dotted with stages of their own constructing. All this is the doing of man knowing no more than to live the lower and outer life, and never perceiving that, in his weeping and in his graver doings alike, he is but at play; to handle austere matters austerely is reserved for the thoughtful: the other kind of man is himself a futility. Those incapable of thinking gravely read gravity into frivolities which correspond to their own frivolous Nature. Anyone that joins in their trifling and so comes to look on life with their eyes must understand that by lending himself to such idleness he has laid aside his own character. If Socrates himself takes part in the trifling, he trifles in the outer Socrates.

Plotinus is correct, I would suggest, sub specie aeternitatis, just as is Sherman sub specie incarnationis — and it is the role of the artist to hold both visions, trivial and eternal, as Koestler suggests.

**

I am again grateful to David Foster for his ChicagoBoyz post The Romance of Terrorism and War which triggered this exploration and the one on Getting Deeper into Koestler which preceded it.

Getting deeper into Koestler

Friday, March 18th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — on creativity at the intersection of the fleeting and the eternal ]
.

centaur skeleton
Centaur, displayed in the International Wildlife Museum, Tucson, AZ

**

You know Lao Tzu’s “uncarved wood” (pu) — and Spencer Brown’s “Mark” or “first distinction? It is hard to speak of “the one and the many” without language itself favoring the many, the one being “one” and the many “another”. The Greek phrase “Before Abraham was, I am” attributed to Christ may be as close as we get.

The “uncarved wood” is not some definite -– named and thus defined -– “one” -– it is also “raw silk” (su), the simple -– the natural way or stream, from which things have not yet been separated out by naming.

There is delight, however, both in one becoming two and thus many, in the making of distinctions and naming of names, and no less in two (or the many) becoming one, in the resolution of paradox, the release of tension, peace after strife. In human terms, there is joy in both solo and collaborative achievement.

What better, then, than the perfect fit between disparate entities?

I have written often enough about Arthur Koestler and the place where two disparate spheres of thought link up — the centaur links horse and man in an indissoluble unity — there’s no question here of dismounting after a ride, giving the horse a rub down and some feed, then retiring to the verandah for a whiskey…

The mythological aha! we get from the centaur displayed in the museum hinges on the fit of horse and human skeletons, the perfection with which disparates are joined.

**

Thus far, whenever I’ve discussed Koestler‘s notion of bisociation, I’ve focused on the sense that it liea at the heart of creativity. Koestler himself takes it deeper. Here’s Nicholas Vajifdar, in a review titled Summing Up Arthur Koestler’s Janus: A Summing Up:

Koestler .. asserts that there are two planes of existence, the trivial and the tragic. The trivial plane is the stage for paying bills, shopping, working. Most of life takes place on the trivial plane. But sometimes we’re swept up into the tragic plane, usually due to some catastrophe, and everything becomes glazed with an awful significance. From the point of view of the tragic plane, the trivial plane is empty and frivolous; from the point of view of the trivial plane, the tragic plane is embarrassing and overwrought. Once we’ve moved from one plane to the other, we forget why we could have felt the way we used to.

That’s not just any old distinction between two realms, that’s the one Koestler himself prioritizes. And following his basic principle that a creative spark is lit when two disparate “planes of ideas” intersect, we shouldn’t be too surprised to find Vajifdar continuing:

“The highest form of human creativity,” Koestler writes, “is the endeavor to bridge the gap between the two planes. Both the artist and the scientist are gifted — or cursed — with the faculty of perceiving the trivial events of everyday experience sub specie aeternitatis, in the light of eternity…”

William Blake made a similar observation in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, writing:

Eternity is in love with the productions of time.

Finally, Vajifdar tells us why he finds Koestler’s definition of art maybe the best he’s ever read:

What I value in this definition of creativity is its emphasis on the subjective being of those who experience the work of art or scientific theory, a surer gauge than cataloguing formal properties or whether it’s “interesting.” Art has always seemed like a kind of sober drunkenness, or drunken sobriety. Most people probably have wondered whether the feelings they felt while drunk were more or less real than their sober feelings. Koestlerian art joins these seemingly irreconcilable feelings together.

Let’s just go one step further. In Promise and Fulfilment – Palestine 1917-1949, Koestler specifically singles out this intersection as an aspect of the experience of warfare:

This intense and perverse peace, superimposed on scenes of flesh-tearing and eardrum-splitting violence, is an archetype of war-experience. Grass never smells sweeter than in a dug-out during a bombardment when one’s face is buried in the earth. What soldier has not seen that caterpillar crawling along a crack in the bark of the tree behind which he took cover, and pursuing its climb undisturbed by the spattering of his tommy-gun? This intersecting of the tragic and the trivial planes of existence has always obsessed me in the Spanish Civil War, during the collapse of France, in the London blitz.

**

I am grateful to David Foster for his ChicagoBoyz post The Romance of Terrorism and War which triggered this exploration, and that on the glamour of war which will follow it.

Lexington Green Interviewed on Against the Current

Thursday, September 10th, 2015

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

America 3.0 : Rebooting Prosperity in the 21st Century by James C. Bennett and Michael Lotus

Lexington Green” of Chicago Boyz blog, a.k.a Michael Lotus, co-author of America 3.0 was interviewed recently by Chicago talk radio host and TV commentator Dan   Proft, on Proft’s video podcast, Against the Current.

I heartily approve of the cigars.

Tune in for approximately fifty minutes of conversation regarding national and local politics, futurism, economics and political philosophy through the analytic prism of America 3.0 (a book I warmly endorse):

 

Visiting with T. Greer and Lexington Green

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

 Reading Room, University of Chicago Library

Last Sunday I spent a very enjoyable afternoon meeting T. Greer of Scholar’s Stage blog and visiting with him and Lexington Green of the group blog Chicago Boyz ( where T. Greer and I both occasionally post).  Greer was in Chicago for The Midwest Political Science Association Conference at The Palmer House downtown.  It was good to finally meet T. Greer and see Lex after a long hiatus and our conversation in person took off from where they had been online without skipping a beat.

The weather was uncooperative, but Lex took us on a walking and driving tour of his alma mater, the University of Chicago.

 

We spent some time at Powell’s Books, a Lexington Green favorite, which is an absolutely fabulous bookstore for the serious bibliophile. We went through the stacks and reached the basement level.

 

  

I bought a few from the military history and strategy section

Next we spent some relaxing time and deep conversation about books, ideas and policy at  the legendary Jimmy’s Tap where Saul Bellow and a legion of intellectual luminaries, students, writers and workingmen just off their shift rubbed shoulders. We sat in the back room where it was quieter. The discussion was a rare pleasure.

Finally, we ate at another Chicago and Hyde Park landmark – the cafeteria style service Valois.  If you ever visit the University of Chicago, eat here. The food was outstanding (I had the prime rib with hash browns, which I strongly recommend) and the prices more than reasonable. We ate our fill and talked some more.

One of the nicest aspects of blogging has been the friendships forged in the broad circle of folks debating military and foreign policy, strategy, counterinsurgency, intelligence issues and (unavoidably) politics. From meetings like this to book and article projects to the Boyd Conferences, the interactions have all been positive and enriching.

I am not Kafka. But..

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

[by Charles Cameron — a very preliminary salute to James Bennett and Michael Lotus’ new book, with blues harp to match ]
.


.

Okay, I’m a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles, a jackdaw, not the most consistent of readers — but I did stumble upon something…

I’ll admit, I cannot even see how “the actual time and materials cost of the hammer might be $60 a hammer” when its “functional equivalent might cost $20 in a hardware store” — but let’s overlook that 200% markup for a moment, and chew on the rest of this dazzling paragraph from James C. Bennett and Michael J. Lotus, America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity in the 21st Century — Why America’s Greatest Days Are Yet to Come, pp. 266-67:

The Department of Defense requires that the labor time and materials used in building defense items on a “time and materials” basis, which is the great majority of all such items, be documented in excruciating detail. The costs of doing this are themselves allowed as expenses, so that the government ultimately pays for the costs of this proof. Therefore, when lurid accounts of $600 hammers procured by the Pentagon surface in the press, what is actually happening is a hammer whose functional equivalent might cost $20 in a hardware store is purchased in the Pentagon system, the actual time and materials cost of the hammer might be $60, with an additional $540 in documentation costs to ensure that the government is not being over¬charged for the item.

I admit, I am not Kafka.

But if that isn’t a snake biting its own tail arrangement, I don’t know what is.

**

What can I say?

**

Interesting, btw — I’ll bet there’s a story behind the decision to switch book covers from the one proposed earlier (at the top of the post, left) to the one the book now carries (right)!


Switch to our mobile site