Friday, April 16, 2010

Jarry, Chomsky and Gerhart Niemeyer

            Billy Blogblather response to my post, "Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi's opening night -- and Chom..." is as follows.  My comments will follow:
            "So much seems to me to depend on what one means by "anarchism." I can't fathom anyone seriously believing in no law or governance, but I can certainly imagine and support vehement opposition to a society's mores and even rebellion against a State if it uses its power to enforce those mores. I've never believed that any State has control of my conscience, quite the contrary, if it acts in violation of my conscience, I have a "moral" obligation to oppose the State. What that opposition might entail is dependent on many factors. The "absurdity" that Jarry brings to Western Culture was, I believe, a God send. Who can look at the history of humanity and not despair over the ruthless insanity -- but at the same time not marvel at "what a piece of work is a man?" The gap between what we see as potential and how monstrous we still are -- that's the mother of absurdity. Theater of the Absurd is a call to leave the foxholes and find some other employment. Since time immemorial the stupid exigencies of power -- political and religious have all ended in the trenches with human beings stabbing or shooting one another for some goddamn reason or another. THIS IS THE ABSURDITY. The Absurdists were the pragmatists: Get the fuck out of Dodge. Chuck this insanity.
            "I first read Ubu Roi some 40 years ago. It was one of the best days of my life. I celebrated it! Here's a man (Jarry) not afraid to call all Western Civilization a bloody murderous monstrosity. It has remained so, yes, even became more monstrous as the seekers of intelligent order marched across Europe. But here was one among us who said NO in thunder and I loved everything about it. Chomsky, I don't think is in any way an absurdist. I don't doubt he believes that many absurdities exist in the world of power politics, but I think he's one of the most rational critics of Western power that I've read. If he were an artist, no doubt he would scream absurdist words at the word and probly throw shit. But he's not. He argues very sanely. God love Jarry. God love Chomsky."
            COMMENTS:  Billy Blogblather's comment, "The gap between what we see as potential and how monstrous we still are -- that's the mother of absurdity," reminds me of the arguments of Gerhart Niemeyer.  In the preface to his Nothingness and Paradise, he writes "For some time I have been interested in a feature common to all totalitarian ideologies which I have called the 'total critique of society,' and the corresponding activism that goes under the name of 'creative destruction.'  Three months before the end of the war Goebbels gloated over the wholesale incineration of Germany as the road to radical newness, and a little later Hitler nodded his approval to total defeat.  But these two were latecomers to a company of major and minor figures which in the past and present has included Babeuf, Marx, Bakunin, Nechaev, Lenin, Trotsky, Marcuse, Cohn-Bendit, and Mark Rudd.  All have made a vocation of total revolution directed not against any injustice in particular but against the 'system.'  For them, society represents evil in general and their existential rejection of it engulfs ethics and metaphysics, politics and religion."
            Blogblather's commendable hope that war can be eliminated is not followed by any coherent argument as to how we might effect that end.  There are no measurable steps we can take to get from his hope that war can be eliminated to the actual elimination of war.  The best he can offer is to "leave the foxholes and find some other employment."  By that I take him to mean to include the refusal to back one's nation if that nation decides to go to war.  But that is precisely what Jarry and the other artistic anarchists inspired.  The period Shattuck writes about ends with 1918.  After that the Blogblather-Jarry-Chomsky anarchism is in full swing.  Antiwar sentiments were very popular at that time.  But what did they result in?  They contributed mightily to France's unpreparedness.  When we read histories of France prior to Germany's invasion, we learn that France was doing exactly what Billy Blogblather recommended: it's men were leaving their foxholes and finding some other employment.  Perhaps they weren't permitted to literally leave their foxholes, but they were not prepared mentally to oppose Nazi aggression.
            Neimeyer argues that the Jarry-Chomsky-Blogblather "hope" for paradise ends often enough in a Totalitarian Inferno.  And, interestingly, some of those involved in this process believe the cataclysmic destruction that results or may result is a good thing.  Whether it is a good thing or not, it at the very least fails to accomplish what Blogblather hopes for.
            As to Chomsky, I agree.  He isn't an absurdist, but he is an anarchist -- another anarchist without a coherent plan or argument.  Note that he has mastered the list of all the bad things his nation has done.  But are there any nations which haven't done similar things?  He likes to praise nations which have no power, but once they get power, as Cambodia and Vietnam did, then see whether they eschew the evils that Chomsky bemoans.  The fact is that they do not.  More people were killed in Vietnam and Cambodia after the U.S. pulled out than during the whole Vietnam War.  Chomsky knows that, but he blames the U.S. for that as well: if the U.S. hadn't gone over there none of what followed would have happened.  He concentrates upon his belief that this "evil" that he opposes is, almost exclusively, province of the U.S., but it isn't.  It is in the very nature of man himself.  We are a war-like species. 
            In our early hunter-gatherer days, the ability to fight "wars" against neighboring tribes had some survival benefit.  The tribe that won survived.  The tribe that lost didn't.  And even after man began settling in towns and cities the ability to fight a war had benefits.  We can read of great peoples of the past that no longer exist.  Why do they no longer exist?  Because they lost a war.  But today that doesn't hold true -- at least not in the West.  We don't war against each other to extinction -- at least not normally.  That is a limit we have placed upon ourselves: no more wars to extinction.  We have a word for that limitation: "Genocide."   It is okay to defend one's nation's interests, but it is not okay to commit "Genocide." 
            Jarry, Chomsky and Blogblather aren't willing to see that the Western Way of War is an improvement over the earlier ways.  And singling out "the West" for special abuse in regard to war is not presented with anything like a coherent argument.  Are there other systems that do better in regard to war?  No.  They other systems do worse.  After Chomsky got his way and the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam, the Vietnamese and Cambodians no longer had the restraint, as small as it was, of the Americans; so what did they do?  Did they produce a better way of war?  Not at all.  What followed the U.S. withdrawal was far worse than anything that occurred during the war. 
            I know the anti-war Blogblather will refer to agent orange and the bombings.  I would agree with him on that up to a point.  We went over there to support our ally, South Vietnam, but our tactics were flawed.  We did not fully understand that an enemy like the North Vietnamese could not be defeated solely from the air.  We probably still don't understand that.  Clinton's war in the Balkans seems to have been successful from high altitude (in order to avoid the "body bags" which were the anathema of the Vietnam war).  Today we have more sophisticated air-borne weapons than we did then; so the "hope" that we can fight a war without losing many of our own soldiers is still with us.
            But is the hope that there will be no more war realistic?  I don't believe so.  It isn't "the system" that causes war, neither our system nor any other system.  It is human nature.  But what is "human nature," the absurdist-anarchist will challenge?  Without attempting to define all that it is or all that it isn't, we have good evidence that we as a species have always been warlike.  Having said that, we have learned that periods of peace occur when a single power has defeated all the others -- or has become so powerful that none of the others challenge it.  We have levels of wealth and technology that are new to our species.  There is a lot of "other employment" in the twenty-first century for our species to be interested in.  But "leaving our foxholes" isn't going to secure the peaceful enjoyment of that employment.  Coming to terms with our potential enemies may.  We are in interesting relationships with China, Russia, European nations, Japan and much of the rest of the world.  Despite Chomsky's criticism, we are not interested in fighting against all these nations militarily.  But we have learned the lesson that Jarry's followers didn't learn: pacifism doesn't eliminate war, it invites it. 
            We are remaining strong so that wars can be kept to a manageable number.  That won't be acceptable to Blogblather, but there is no coherent alternative.  The Blogblather's of the U.S. got their wish in the last presidential election and elected a leader after their own hearts, but that leader was not content to live in incoherent hope.  He learned to deal with the rest of the world as it actually existed.  He learned to study the difficulties of the Middle East and ended up taking a position not dissimilar from his predecessor.  The success in Iraq, now, some are saying, will be Obama's "crowning glory."   Do I need to emphasize the irony involved in that?

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