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Rwanda cognition – and a *key* question

Sunday, March 19th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron –the key question arises from the final quote ]
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[source page unavailable ]

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Mark Gilchrist, the Australian serving officer who brought us Why Thucydides Still Matters, has a new post — the first of three — up at Strategy Bridge in which he explores The Twilight Between Knowing and Not Knowing — an appropriately liminal title — specifically, the difficulties involved in recognizing genocide. It’s a fascinating if harrowing article, and I’m going to cherry-pick some quotes for your attention..

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the world’s diplomats were accustomed to dealing with wars – they were not, and did not try to become, accustomed to the requirements of dealing with genocide.

So, between politics and (its continuation) war, at least ne liminal condiciton: genocide.

You’ve got to sow the seeds of hysteria in the population, and that takes time…

How far back can we date the current wave of hysteria in the population — from a liberal and from a conservative perspective, or other?

Dallaire deployed without knowledge of the history and culture of Rwanda or relevant intelligence about the stakeholders, agendas or general situation on the ground. This inhibited his ability to understand the massacres that occurred

Ooh, anthropology, and — dare we say it — (dark) religion.

it failed to recognise the importance of the rise in anti-Tutsi rhetoric in the Rwandan media, which was instrumental in furthering the extremists’ genocidal aims through the psychological preparation of the Hutu population.

Are we monitoring the rise of anti-x rhetoric (foreign and domestic)? How’s it going?

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Here’s the stunning cognitive takeaway!!

The scale of the barbarity was almost incomprehensible to Western observers – UNAMIR troops included – which resulted in eyewitnesses often finding themselves in denial about what was unfolding around them. The troops made themselves believe that high-pitched screams were gusts of wind, that the rabid packs of dogs were feeding on animal remains and not human carcasses, that the smells enveloping them emanated from spoiled food and not decomposing bodies. Barnett argues that this fantasy is reminiscent of Primo Levi’s observation about the Holocaust that ‘things whose existence is not morally comprehensible cannot exist.’ This is particularly so for Western troops who are trained to think and act within the bounds of a moral and ethical behavioural framework that can obscure their ability to recognise the evil that others may be capable of.

Blindness, denial. The grand question raised by this article and by the Rwandan experience goes way beyon Rwanda to our cognitive incapacities and their potentially disastrous repercussions in general.

No worries, ma — it’s only a gust of wind.

Dept of Unintended Consequences

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — whether a fabricated meme or true to life, this surely counts as a fine & fun example of the unanticipated ]
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Quelle surprise!

Are anomalies blindspots?

Sunday, February 26th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — watching a Franco-British detective saga ]
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This police helicopter view from The Tunnel (series 1 episode 3 at the 16’21” mark) —

— raises the question for me: are anomalies blindspots, or are blindspots so anomalous as to evade even the “blindspot” category? Certainly my practice is to seek out blindspots, and anomalies may be clues..

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What’s interesting about anomalies is that they aren’t isolated, they’re precisely anomalous in respect to some norm or other, figure against field.

Which boils up to another instance of my repeated plaint that a single data point is nothing, that two is the first number — see, eg, It is always good to find oneself in good company.

Not up for debate: three candidates

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a light-hearted, part-musical, part-personal, part-putinesque — counterpoise to the present Presidential electoral season ]
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You wanna make government a barrel of fun? Vote Dizzy! Vole Dizzy!
Your Politics Oughtta Be A Groovier Thing? Vote Dizzy! Vole Dizzy!

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Okay, we’ve had a day or two to recover from the first of this year’s Presidential debates, and I’d like to give you a break from the incessant Trump no Hillary no stay home or vote Stein or Johnson or write in or whatever shindig with three possible candidates not on most lists.

One is anonymous. One is myself (ridiculous). And one — the best known of the three, but deceased, alas — plays trumpet, and ran in 1964.

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No, as far as we know, Vladimir Putin has not expressed a wish for Donald Trump to be President of the US, despite some fraternal noises. Instead, he somewhat cannily answered an unnamed US journalist’s question by wishing she could hold that office (upper panel, below):

Tablet DQ Putin & Abu Walid

So:

Putin’s candidate is, as far as I know, anonymous — though there’s a presumably a journalist somewhere who knows, since she was there at the time, and Putin was responding to her.

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I probably wouldn’t have given this particular remark of Putin’s a second thought, had Abu Walid al-Masri not wished the same fate on me (lower panel, above).

Here’s how that happened.

I’d been in friendly contact with the noted Australian Federal Police counterterrorism analyst Leah Farrall for a while, when Leah struck up an email correspondence some years back with Abu Walid. The latter was among the first Arabs in Afghanistan, a journalist, a friend of Mullah Omar and bin Laden, and a fierce critic of 9/11. Both Leah and Abu Walid were bloggers, and both deeply interested in the early history and structure of Al-Qaida so, Leah thought, why not talk? And talk they did.

At one point, Leah very kindly invited me to join their conversation. I’m a know your enemy type on my father‘s side (he was a naval warrior) and a love your enemy type on my mentor‘s (he was a monk, and quite the warrior in his own way) — so I wrote to Abu Walid, and he responded:

  • All Things CT, Charles Cameron to Abu Walid al Masri
  • Zenpundit, Abu Walid al Masri to Charles Cameron
  • I don’t see myself as US President any time soon — I’m a Brit born and bred, which would rule me out in any case, and a monarchist at that — but Putin’s comment to the journalist reminded me of my own equivalent in Abu Walid’s response to my letter, and gave me a quiet chuckle — hence this post.

    More significant than my cameo appearance.. Years later, Abu Walid was released from house arrest in Iran. He — now dropping his nom de guerre and going by his original name, Mustafa Hamid — met in person with Leah in Alexandria, amd after months of conversations they produced an unparalleled joint work, The Arabs at War in Afghanistan (Hurst, 2015).

    It is, as I said, without parallel — with a second volume to follow?

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    Okay, back to electoral candidates. How about Dizzy Gillespie? Here’s a belated tribute to the candidate who blue-notes outside the lines:

    As blog-friend and jazz-meister Bill Benzon noted recently, Dizzy Gillespie nominated himself. And how!

    When I am elected President of the United States, my first executive order will be to change the name of the White House! To the Blues House.

    Income tax must be abolished, and we plan to legalize ‘numbers’ – you know, the same way they brought jazz into the concert halls and made it respectable. We refuse to be influenced by the warnings of one NAACP official who claims that making this particular aspect of big business legal would upset the nation’s economy disastrously.

    One of the ways we can cut down governmental expenditures is to disband the FBI and have the Senate Internal Security Committee investigate everything under white sheets for un-American activities. Understand, we won’t take no ‘sheet’ off anybody!

    You wanna make government a barrel of fun? Vote Dizzy! Vole Dizzy!

    Into the storm winds

    Sunday, August 21st, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — Peter Thiel, Rainer Maria Rilke, and the importance of unheard voices ]
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    Noting Peter Thiel‘s comment below, I was reminded of the opening of Rilke‘s Duino Elegies — Himalayas of the human spirit.

    SPEC DQ Thiel Rilke

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    Stephen Mitchell‘s version of the Elegies is the one I like best, and lends itself well to the speaking voice. Mitchell’s opening lines read thus:

    Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’ hierarchies?
    and even if one of them pressed me suddenly against his heart:
    I would be consumed in that overwhelming existence.
    For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are still just able to endure,
    and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
    Every angel is terrifying.

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    My own version, which I’ve placed in the lower panel of the DoubleQuote above, alludes to Rilke’s storm-driven physical environment at the time the beginning of the poem came to him at Schloss Buino. In the words of Princess Marie von Thurn und Taxis:

    Rilke climbed down to the bastions which, jutting to the east and west, were connected to the foot of the castle by a narrow path along the cliffs. These cliffs fall steeply, for about two hundred feet, into the sea. Rilke paced back and forth, deep in thought, since the reply to the letter so concerned him. Then, all at once, in the midst of his brooding, he halted suddenly, for it seemed to him that in the raging of the storm a voice bad called to him: “Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angelic orders?” (Wer, wenn ich schriee, hörte mich denn aus der Engel Ordnungen?)… He took out his notebook, which he always carried with him, and wrote down these words, together with a few lines that formed themselves without his intervention … Very calmly he climbed back up to his room, set his notebook aside, and replied to the difficult letter. By that evening the entire elegy had been written down.

    In that instant, as I understand the matter, Rilke shouts into the wind, into the heedless world, into the angelic immensity..

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    Whether it’s a still small voice that goes unheard, a voice hurled into the tumultuous storm, heedless void, or transcomprehensible angelic choirs, or a voice crying from desert or wilderness, it is always the unattended, the unlistened voice which carries the note unnoticed — the truth we’d find in the blindspot if we took it for a mirror, the seed and germination of those so-often catastrophic unanticipated consequences that trend-based analysis and front-view vision so regularly miss.


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