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A Note from Lydia

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With the Republican Party on the political ropes, so to speak, about the war, and the Democrats increasingly under siege from their left on the issue of cutting war funds, it's been hard to keep pace with developments the last few days. In between just doing life-stuff, I think I try harder than most to make sense of what is going on these turbulent days in international relations. But things still slip past my radar; and that's what friends are for.

A recent email from my friend, Lydia, gave me a much-needed heads-up that I feel compelled to share here.

I admit I had turned off the TV except to watch late-night whodunit CDs - my cognitive junk food. It's a mental health break from CNN infomercials and the puffed-up posturing of politicos on C-Span.

Lydia had followed some of my musing about the chaotic bifurcations in American domestic politics, and how ripe anti-immigrant xenophobia is for whichever candidates choose to pluck this poisonous but low-hanging fruit.

The advantage, as males, of having women for friends, is we can share the complementary strengths we have from our respective socialization as a way of overcoming our weaknesses. Men are trained to compartmentalize, to set aside certain irritants from our culture when they make us uncomfortable... and anything that hits our emotional tuning forks is reflexively kept out, so to speak. It's a great defense mechanism, but it comes at a high price... which is a real loss of sensitivity to important intangibles around us. A net weakness, in my view. We are not immune to emotional manipulation; in fact, I would argue, we are more susceptible to it, because we won't acknowledge it. Women are socialized to be very sensitive to emotional appeals, and the strength of that is that they can more readily feel and, therefore, identify them.

Lydia had been watching C-Span, and shot me an email.

"I'm curious if you've been able to stomach any of the speakers in the House since yesterday," she said. "I know folks on both sides are pissing you off."

For the first time the more populist/xenophobic war supporters are feeling pressed to come up with more rhetorically effective (however ignoble) arguments, with a larger forum in which to do it...

For the first time, I heard Boehner, who launched the anti-resolution [the House anti-"surge" resolution] side, name this as a conflict against Islamic jihadism that began in 1979 with the Iranian hostage crisis.

Now, their Islamophobia doesn't surprise me... but until yesterday I hadn't heard them reframe this as a war that has been going on "since 1979," with "30 attacks against America" in the intervening years, only one of which was 9/11.

Here's what concerns me . . . There's something highly psychologically enticing to anyone who was born in or before, say, 1975, I think, to have offered to them a powerful new narrative for the entirety of their lives. . . not just a narrative for a crisis of the past few years. .. but suddenly, like the disease metaphor in addiction, a large grand theory through which so many culturally and personally dislodging changes, losses, accelerations can be reinterpreted. (I'm not talking here of the small minority highly informed about the long history of American imperialism.)

Of course, the lives of any generation, whether Stone Age or Digital, are always full of individual and collective ego-generated suffering (desire and fear, from the Buddhist perspective), and the knee-jerk human response is too long for a grand, typically otherizing (and thereby ego-maintaining) theory to explain it.

I'm just concerned that this sweeping up of the past 28 years into a new grand narrative is going to register on the inner fascism-to-counter-psychic-pain meter perhaps more powerfully than the immigrants-are-stealing-our-jobs narrative.

At first glance, it seems counter-intuitive. We've got lots more Latina/os in our daily lives in the US to hate and round up and blame for shitty jobs and unaffordable health care than people who are or look like Muslims. On the other hand, this new narrative re-engages the imagery of what for many was a highly emotionally charged conflict about which they or their parents had unresolved anger. . . .and suddenly, oh, all these years growing up and fucking up like any living human being and seeing our society changing so goddamn fast and our hopes not pan out . . . it's captured by Americans in blindfolds. [The photographs of the American Embassy hostages of 1979 in Iran]

"We've been blindflolded."

There's enormous demagogic potential in dramatically merging the desire to rip those blindfolds off those hostages, with the incessant human desire to re-visualize "anew" our personal and collective histories in a way that gives meaning to the unavoidable losses and absurdities of all human life that, for two generations, would have accrued since 1979.

Obviously the most aggressive apologists for the Bush administration war policy right now, represented by attack-dog Boehner, are reading from someone's playbook. I'd missed it, partly because I turned off the TV, but also partly because dismissing these demagogic appeals - for boyz - includes wrapping those emotional tuning forks in cotton. While I would reactively dismiss this as "just more bullshit," Lydia - like many well-socialized grrlz - felt that ping... one that was carefully calculated by the authors of the new "1979" narrative.

So I turned on C-Span, just in time to hear Republican John Duncan of East Tennessee speak out against the war in terms I could have written myself (this was a remarkable thing to behold, and Duncan should be praised to the heavens). What I also heard, however, again and again, not just from that macho shit-head Boehner, but from a whole queue of Republicans, was the 1979 narrative.

Lydia had nailed it.

"I never thought," she wrote, "that masses of people might be psychologically tempted to trace back a reverse trajectory around the random scatterplot of their lives' and culture's perceived personal and cultural losses, recasting the meaning of their lives within the collective narrative of the 'global fight against Jihadism (sic) since 1979.'"

This talking point is very consistent with the whole Straussian worldview of the neocons. They are all about reasserting control, about re-establishing order in a world where classical (Jeffersonian) liberalism has led (in their view) to dangerous levels of social disorder. Part of that control is the militarization of both foreign and domestic policy; but a very important part of that control is finding a Grand Narrative, of decisively establishing a Manichean cultural mythology (The Noble Lie) that can be mapped onto the collective imagination.

That's what's clever about this new play. It mobilizes the Islamophobia that was already there, but it pushes it back before 9-11, which with its sequels has now become an avalanche of embarrassments; and it does so with this meaning-making that Lydia admits resonated with her as she saw the photographs of the blindfolded hostages... the resonance that I would have "tuned out." And, of course, it trumps the anti-Latin@ xenophobia of Dobbs and Tancredo that might threaten Republican unity... maybe.... we'll see.

What becomes important, then, is inoculation. Constructed imagination like this works in the dark, as it were. Its instrumentality does not suffer bright light. It is like those cockroaches that one sees scurrying down the drain when we flip on the kitchen light in the middle of the night. That's why we have to call this out. We have to talk about this, a lot. Expose it. Name it every time it rears its head, because the establishment won't.

I would even suggest, in conjunction with these confrontations, we send around the very humanizing Lucas Gray flash video of Iran. Nothing communicates like pictures and music.

The antidote to this is not a pill; it's a long infusion. Now. Early. Don't let this venomous myth of the US-as-Victim-of-Islam get a purchase. Every instance of this myth must be confronted.

We are out ahead of them right now, and this is an attempt to re-capture the political initiative. It has to be dealt with quickly and without quarter.

Thanks, Lydia.