Thursday, March 24, 2005

Book burning, and other noteworthy incidents

The United States is an awfully repressive place at times, especially for a country that is supposedly at the forefront of human advancement and progress. What prompts this particular whining of mine is the news that recently, Lynne Cheney, wife of Vice President Dick "I'm Not Dead, Yet" Cheney, ordered the burning of hundreds of books that supposedly cast some arcane aspect of American history in a bad light. I know, I know, this is old news, but I am still alarmed by Mrs Cheney's actions.

This new-age Savonarola, herself authress of a steamy civil-war era story about a lesbian couple, now out of print, also went on Fox News (that classy beacon of tv journalism, the fair and balanced news network) and proclaimed that the nation's history had to be looked at in a "non-cynical and inspiring light". Sure, forget about concertedly driving an entire native race to near-extinction, and the bondage of another for a hundred years, and there's only the Wizard of Oz left to tell in the (hi)story books.

This is also the country where people think the theory of evolution should not be taught in schools because it might be opposite to some people's fundamental religious beliefs and the theory of creationism. A documentary about volcanoes on Discovery Channel was also put on hold because of the same concerns. Television stations across the country refused to air the movie Saving Private Ryan, fearing indecency fines by the FCC.

We have a President who tries (and succeeds) to score cheap political points by speaking about promoting a "culture of life". This is the same guy who was governor of Texas, where more people are legally put to death every year, than does the rest of the country (This is a rant. I am not checking facts here, but you get the picture).

But these are only a few in a series of disturbing revelations I have come to have about this country. The image of the States as projected to the outside world is the one peddled by Hollow-wood (oops, Hollywood... that was actually a Freudian slip) and television. This is the image of a Godless, hedonistic, morally corrupt society. It wouldn't be a problem for me if this country was simply hedonistic, and morally corrupt. What is, is the fact that it is one of the most conservative of modern societies. A hypocritical, jingoistic majority, that is regularly whipped up by religious fervor of its clergy, where covert propaganda passes for news, and wimpy middle-ground politics is considered radical liberalism.

All the above would still not be a big concern if the country's foreign policy did not reflect its retrograde cultural and religious ideology. Like bestowing democracy on a country whose civilization is approximately five thousand years older than itself. I think below all the ideological and political rhetoric about the rationale for current foreign policy is ignorance and fear. Fear and uncertainty about people who are unlike its own. A people whose very idea of organized society is quite different from the one that is known here.

6 comments:

vishvas said...

you said:
"Like bestowing democracy on a country whose civilization is approximately five thousand years older than itself."
comment:
i say, i really dont find much diferrence between a software engineer of experience of 3 years, and a software engineer of experience of 4 years... generally speaking. also to be noted is that the 5000 year old mezopotomean civilization is extinct... the only influences it has left are those mild imprints on judeo-christian-islamic civilizations. iraq has no more mezopotomea in it, than modern egypt having ramases, or than indian civilization having mohenjadaro. plus, older is not better.
invasion of iraq was probably the right thing to do, for the wrong reasons. they did free a people from oppression. the invasion of iraq and afghanistan did improve US security. these areas are now under allied control, and eventually, in 5 years will no longer tie up US forces in that theater. there is a time to puch and a time to duck.

ps:
1. i understand that this is only a rant.
2. opposition to the hypocracy behind the invasion (non existant WMD's and semi-mythical terrorists), should not encompass the invasion itself. if you manage to save a life while commiting a blunder, only the blunder should be criticized.
sadly, despite the genocides, holocausts, repression, it is still not in fashion to use them as an excuse, or motivation for war.
3. i agree about hypocritical jingoistic majority...it was instructive. but, people at large have always been stupid... in the end, it is a few at the top who, aving made their choices use jingoism, rhetoric and often, hypocracy to achieve their ends.

Shashank said...

Vishwas, I concede that the use of that statement was more bombast than substance. Although, you can not totally discount the effect the past has had on the inhabitants of any particular region.

On the other hand, I think that there are probably no human endeavors that are worth dying for, or killing for. Even if there were, I am pretty sure this war isn't one of them. Your Nietzschean thinking of "might is right", or "the ends justify the means" is clearly in opposition to my rather more hopeful, Spinozan thinking.

p.s., I acknowledge your recognition that it was a rant. I am trying to reciprocate your effort to make a meaningful conversation out of some of it.

Shashank said...

Vishwas, I concede that the use of that statement was more bombast than substance. Although, you can not totally discount the effect the past has had on the inhabitants of any particular region.

On the other hand, I think that there are probably no human endeavors that are worth dying for, or killing for. Even if there were, I am pretty sure this war isn't one of them. Your Nietzschean thinking of "might is right", or "the ends justify the means" is clearly in opposition to my rather more hopeful, Spinozan thinking.

p.s., I acknowledge your recognition that it was a rant. I am trying to reciprocate your effort to make a meaningful conversation out of some of it.

vishvas said...

hi shashank.

if i were commanding the us forces, i would act compassionately. i would with loving kindness wield the sword that gives life, and, indeed save lives.

i suggest that even if you were opposed to the us using neitzchchean way of operating in the "might is right" way, (as i am) you must not seek to destroy their standing by opposing good and bad deeds indiscriminately. that would contradict the spinozan opposition to "ends justify the means" theory, which you profess... you would be hitting below the belt, and criticizing the good deeds as well.
when dealing with an errant person, often compassionate explanation and dialog works better than total rebuke. for example, you praize him for the good deed [a]; and tell him it would have been far better if instead of bad deed [b], he had done something else. the same would work with the US government. total rebuke often leads to total defiance and hardlining.

your critique (and those of 10000 people like you) could en masse change the current nietzchean mindset of the US government... but only if you are heard, not ignored, and if you dont make them defiant in their defence of their bad deeds along with their good deeds.
to accomplish this, you need to be adopt more moral and better technique of criticizing their bad deeds and praizing their good deeds. even your criticizm, as i believe should all actions !:), should spring from compassion.

for example, the us (i heard) is spearheading the effort to pacify darfur, sudan. such things are to be praised.
the new us ambassador to the un, appointed by cheney for domestic political reasons, has in the passed said "if there is to be a permanent member of the security council, it sould only be us, and no one else. that reflects the current situation better." (not exactly in the same words.) this is to be rebuked.

-vishvas

Chary said...

There seems to be a shift towards the Right in several countries. Rewriting history books seems to be the current craze. In Gujarat, I have been given to believe that history texts contain stuff like 'Emperor Akbar was a good man even though he was a Muslim'! Japan, too, seems bored of having to apologize to China for WW-II war crimes. I guess the US has also caught on to the trend. There are fundamentalist elements in every society; what is important is the amount of popular support they have. Are Lynne Cheney's actions and views supported by a large number of people?

While it's true that Hollywood tries hard to portray American society as Godless and hedonistic when it clearly is not so, it's also true that commercial cinema rarely ever shows the true picture. What are we to say about Indian movies? Do couples really run around trees and sing duets in the college hallways and cafeteria?

I completely agree with you about the news networks, though. CNN's relentless pro-occupation propaganda is passed off as news about Iraq. In comparison, the BBC has adopted a more neutral viewpoint even though the UK has its hands as bloodied as the US.

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