« IS-Linked Terrorists Appear to Carry Out Their Threat; Captured French Citizen Herve Gourdel Beheaded in Algeria | Main | Ruth Bader Ginsburg: "It makes no sense as a national policy to promote birth only among poor people." »
September 24, 2014

Obama's UN Speech

Pardon the enormous length of this post.

You'll write: TL;DR and I will not complain. You're right. It's too long.

I almost wrote Too Long, Didn't Write.

However, I do have some thoughts about how Obama is communicating with the world, and I want to write them out.

I think I have something useful to say. I may be wrong, obviously. But this is an important moment, and I don't want to feel as if I didn't contribute something that was worth contributing just out of laziness.

I was just listening to Obama's speech to the UN.

He said a couple of useful things. I'll get to them.

I'm writing this post as constructively as I can. I do not have any love for Obama, but he did manage to say some things of a very minor useful nature.

I'd like to encourage him to say more like that.

Before getting to Obama's speech, I want to note something useful John Kerry said. Yes, John Kerry, believe it or not. Regarding IS:

"The Islamic State, they can call themselves what they want to call themselves. We shouldn’t compound the sin by allowing them to get away with it and calling them what they’re not. They’re not a state, and they do not represent Islam," said Kerry at the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s hearing on the U.S. strategy against ISIS.

...

"So I wouldn't compound the crime by calling them a state whatsoever," Kerry said of ISIS. “They're the enemy of Islam. That’s what they are, and as the 21 clerics yesterday said in Saudi Arabia, they are in fact the order of Satan."

Put aside for one moment that blather about the Islamic State neither being Islamic nor a state. Chalk that up to... well, best case interpretation, he's attempting to demean them, to diminish them, to delegitimize them.

Focus on: "They are in fact the order of Satan." For the moment.

Oh and I should say this: Note that while you are focusing on that, the media are not focusing on that. I googled to find this quote, and was a bit astonished to see that the first page of references were all conservative sources and blogs.

Why is the media embargoing this remark? Well, my guess is that they are uncomfortable with it. This God talk, this Satan talk, to the media, it's all very crude and superstitious and unsophisticated.

It's a bunch of nonsense and hokum. It's the way People Not Like Us talk.

The media prefers discussing things on what they would call a more elevated plane. That plane is the cant of Upper Middle Class College-Educated American Coastal Capital Culture -- the tonier, more well-off, highly educated culture of the capital cities of the United States, New York City, primarily (NYC is the nation's true cultural capital city), but also Los Angeles, and, for these purposes, Washington DC (DC does not have any culture to speak of, so it borrows from NYC) and Boston (probably the nation's cultural capital for intellectuality).

It's a culture of Starbucks, pop-up restaurants, and doormen.

That's why the media doesn't report this line. They find it low. It is not the way that products of Upper Middle Class College-Educated American Coastal Capital Culture speak about things.

And this is the way Obama, generally, likes to talk about things, and of course it is the Boston Brahmin John Kerry likes to talk about things.

I don't begrudge them that, honestly. And this is not a "to be sure" caveat that I don't really mean but am inserting just to sound reasonable. I actually do not begrudge anyone their preferred cultural mode of expression, as long as it does not involve suicide vests and beheading knives.

But here's the thing: The Muslim world is obviously not, in the main, the product of Upper Middle Class College-Educated American Coastal Capital Culture. Some are, of course. But those are hardly the Muslims Obama and Kerry are concerned about. Those aren't the Muslims he needs to talk to.

They don't have to reach Huma Abedin, for crying out loud. And if they need to reach her, I'm sure Hillary Clinton can hook them up.

No. If Obama's words are to have any positive effect whatsoever, he has to reach Muslims who are attracted to Islamist extremist ideology. And they come from an entirely different culture, with an entirely different mode of expression.

And he has to talk to them on their preferred terms, not his own.

Before going any further, let me say that I think words are highly overrated. Writers concentrate on words. Reporters concentrate on words. Pundits concentrate on words.

We concentrate on words because it's the one thing we're any good at at all. When all you have is a hammer, all the world is Word Choice, Tropes, and Poetic Metaphor.

I do not think that words are the key to winning this. I think force is. I think willpower is. I think determination is. I thin grit is.

However, to the extent words can play even a marginally helpful role in things, they ought to be as well-chosen as possible, calculated to be the most likely words to generate the intended effect.

And that requires not understanding what we -- or Obama -- or Kerry -- or the national establishment media -- believe, or how we prefer to communicate.

It requires understanding how the intended target of the message perceives the world, and how he prefers to communicate.


The murderers -- let's call them what they are, first things first -- do what they do for a reason.

They are Angry Young Men, and Angry Not-So-Young Men, who still wish to feel Young.

They do what the do because they are attempting to fulfill their ambitions to be Men of Respect.

And I do stress "men." There are women who support this and participate in bombings, of course, but this is chiefly a phenomenon of Men.

They do what they do because they have generally failed at the other methods society has created by which Men can assert themselves as Men of Respect, and so now turn to an ideology that promises them that they can be true Men of Respect, by butchering people, raping women, and crucifying minorities.

They must be addressed on these terms, and the central promise of their ideology -- that it is a pure expression of Masculine Virtue -- must be attacked.

The connection between Murder and Manhood must be severed.

They do not wish to hear about Obama's notion of The Good Life. Let me point out that my own conception of The Good Life is very much like Obama's, and, indeed, I would not mind having dinners with Interesting Italians myself.

But this seems soft, and airy, and feminine to the Angry Young Man. The Angry Young Man seeks a pure expression of his masculine superiority. He cannot be tempted by a life of the mind, or the promise of a soft life, or the (true, and superior) ethic of compassion for his fellow human being.

He has a certain identity he aspires to -- a certain Jungian archetype -- and that archetype is of course The Warrior.

Any pitch to these Angry Young (and Old, Pretending to be Young) Men must wind up granting them that which they seek -- a validation of their Manhood, their status as The Warrior -- while refusing such validation and status to those who kill and rape and bury people alive.

They wish to be feared; those who kill and rape and crucify should instead be diminished.

They wish to respected; those who kill and rape and crucify should instead be mocked.

They wish to appear Godly; those who kill and rape and crucify should instead be called, as they are, agents of the Order of Satan.

Human aspirations cannot be changed very much; they can at most be tweaked, or bent.

One cannot challenge what people believe to be the fundamental ideal. That is too central to their personality. They will reject challenges to that -- and they will do so with hostility (in social situations, in non-psychopathic quarters of the world) or with actual violence.

The most one can do is challenge the another's conception of the proper pathway to achieve that ideal.

I fault Obama for speaking in terms that are too feminine. Please understand, I am not showboating here and doing the Conservative He-Man Parody that you see a lot.

Let me state plainly that there is a great deal of importance in feminine values and feminine modes of communication. Let me further state that society would, of course, entirely collapse, were it not for the sustenance of feminine values.

But the men Obama needs to address do not think much of feminine values. Quite the opposite. When someone is unsure of his own real identity -- and when someone is so callow and unformed to even bother thinking about his "own real identity," whatever the hell that is (and note, generally, only teenagers and emotionally-stunted adults give this much thought at all) -- one usually defines oneself against another identity.

So, for the crude-minded -- and let's assume for the sake of this conversation that most of these murderers are fairly crude-minded individuals -- "Masculine Virtue" consists of exactly whatever the opposite is of Feminine Virtue.

If peace is a Feminine Virtue, then their Masculine Ideal must be War; if an ethic against abusing the weak is a Feminine Virtue, then their Masculine Ideal must be that Might Makes Right (something Obama actually alluded to, but I'll get to that later).

And so on.

Certain ideas are deeply embedded in the male psyche. That to be a real man, one must dominate other men, and one must likewise dominate (or, among more evolved cultures, attract women.

This is what a "hero" is in the minds of... well, virtually every male. Even the most denatured male still has this genetic cultural inheritance kicking around in his amygdala:

stgeorge.jpg

A hero with a bloody weapon, an appreciative beauty, a dragon slain.

Incidentally, did you know St. George was from Roman Palestinian? He was.

I should give credit at this point to Gaming Goose, whose video I recently watched. He makes the argument that of course video games involve heroes of great skill at physical violence saving princesses from terrible dragons, because men have thought in these terms for forty thousand years.

Hundreds of years later, men -- especially juveniles -- respond to the same iconic ideal:

pellucidar.jpg

In their own minds, these killers are not murders. In their own minds, these killers are conquering heroes, slaying dragons, saving princesses.

It is imperative to tell them they are not heroes.

It is imperative to tell them they are simply serial killers who have joined a book club.

Western culture developed an entire culture to restrain, and sacralize, the use of violence. This was the chivalric code-- a code that gave permission for men skilled in war to kill, but also imposed restrictions on the use of violence.

One of the historic uses of the word "coward" -- now largely forgotten -- was not a man who is simply afraid of violent confrontation (a mere craven) but a man who was not afraid of violence but who employed it for impermissible ends or in impermissible ways or against impermissible targets.

It was contrary to the chivalric code to kill a man who had not been challenged (that is, given a fair opportunity to take up arms and fight back); it was contrary to the code to kill children, or women, or older men, or even men who simply did not know how to fight.

These men were branded cowards. Their tactics were cowardly.

Again, "cowardly" not in the simple definition which most modern people are familiar with -- brigands and knaves were not afraid of violence, typically -- but cowardly in that their use of violence against weaker targets was in fact a betrayal of masculine honor.

It was neither masculine nor honorable to slaughter a peasant, or to rape a woman, or to shoot a man in the back with a crossbow.

The strong man fights other strong men. The coward picks his fights more... pragmatically.

The men we have a problem with must be disabused of the idea that they are somehow doing right by doing murder.

And that means adopting a whole series of codes and signals in our strategic communication which have long fallen out of fashion in the Western world because we've "evolved" beyond that, no longer needing them, no longer needing to differentiate between the man of honor and the coward.

In some quarters, some no longer even bother to differentiate between the professional US fighting man -- who himself is bound by a code of honor which itself derives from the chivalric code -- from a simple killer.

Indeed, it is a politically popular notion among some to claim the two are completely alike.

Whatever the merits of that claim (let's just say I disagree with Bill Ayers and his ilk), that is an extremely counter-productive attitude to take with the miscreants of the Middle East.

Those killers, those murderers, already are of the belief that there is no difference whatsoever between a professional solider using as little force as possible and who scrupulously avoids attacking non-soldiers and their own bloody predations.

We should not flatter them by suggesting they're right. Or even permitting them to believe such a thing, by our silence on the matter.

We should be quite firm on the opposite -- that there is a difference, and that that difference is enormous and consequential.

Obama does, as I mentioned, so long ago, say a few things which are marginally helpful in this regard.

But he must do more, and frankly, he must begin employing a language of Right and Wrong, and of Courage and Cowardice, and of righteous judgment that he is obviously uncomfortable with.

Here are some of the oblique nods he made in the direction I'm talking about, and some of the things that will just hearten IS, his mistakes.

Fellow delegates, we come together as United Nations with a choice to make. We can renew the international system that has enabled so much progress, or allow ourselves to be pulled back by an undertow of instability.

I really hate these airy abstractions like "instability." It is a simple dictum of writing that it should be vigorous and tangible.

All of Obama's speechifying is marked by this resort to virtually-meaningless abstractions and euphemisms.

As regards his communications with the Islamic world and IS specifically, he must stop.

Would-be warriors do not give a shit about "instability."

Frankly, even elevated minds have a bit of trouble caring about such an abstraction.

There is much that must be done to meet the tests of this moment. But today I’d like to focus on two defining questions at the root of many of our challenges– whether the nations here today will be able to renew the purpose of the UN’s founding; and whether we will come together to reject the cancer of violent extremism.

Too clinical. He sounds, as usual, like a professor offering some bland observations, rather than a president rallying the world against evil, which is the role he as assumed -- whether he likes that or not.

First, all of us – big nations and small – must meet our responsibility to observe and enforce international norms.

More abstractions. And feminine ones, too. "Norms" are more feminine in nature; the juvenile Angry Young Man mind is full of notions of rebellion and destroying the old order.

I'll try to stop noting his errors because there are, of course, a lot of them. I'll try to just note his better statements from here on out.

Speaking of Putin's abduction of the Ukraine:

This is a vision of the world in which might makes right -- a world in which one nation’s borders can be redrawn by another, and civilized people are not allowed to recover the remains of their loved ones because of the truth that might be revealed. America stands for something different. We believe that right makes might -- that bigger nations should not be able to bully smaller ones; that people should be able to choose their own future.

This is all... okay. It's a bit bloodless, but the sentiments are at least ballpark correct.

The "might makes right" versus "might for right" -- a song from the play Camelot, of course -- is a chivalric notion.

But Obama undermines that by stating that right itself makes might.

The victims of rape and crucifixion can tell him otherwise. They were in the right; they are now either violated, or dead, or both.

So why say it?

It's this sort of thing that diminishes Obama and makes him appear to be soft-headed and weak in the eyes of the people he actually needs to talk to here.


On issue after issue, we cannot rely on a rule-book written for a different century. If we lift our eyes beyond our borders -- if we think globally and act cooperatively -- we can shape the course of this century as our predecessors shaped the post-World War II age. But as we look to the future, one issue risks a cycle of conflict that could derail such progress: and that is the cancer of violent extremism that has ravaged so many parts of the Muslim world.

Again, the problem is only "extremism" in the abstract.

In the plane of the tangible, the problem is murder and rape.

[I]n this century, we have faced a more lethal and ideological brand of terrorists who have perverted one of the world’s great religions. With access to technology that allows small groups to do great harm, they have embraced a nightmarish vision that would divide the world into adherents and infidels -- killing as many innocent civilians as possible; and employing the most brutal methods to intimidate people within their communities.

Somewhat better. But he shies from the term "murder." He says "killer." But US soldiers often refer to themselves a "killers"! Killers is itself -- when you strip away the usual connotation -- a neutral term.

US fighting men do in fact kill.

People who shoot in self defense kill.

The word Obama needs to make himself comfortable with is murder.

I have made it clear that America will not base our entire foreign policy on reacting to terrorism.

Sigh. In a speech meant to rally the world, he takes pains to, of course, defend his political choices.

So we reject any suggestion of a clash of civilizations. Belief in permanent religious war is the misguided refuge of extremists who cannot build or create anything, and therefore peddle only fanaticism and hate. And it is no exaggeration to say that humanity's future depends on us uniting against those who would divide us along fault lines of tribe or sect; race or religion.

Amidst all that Faculty Lounge clutter he strikes upon a useful message:

You are incapable of building or creating, of supporting a family, or of contributing in any way to the human race; thus, you murder.

As many serial killers do. It's no random chance that most serial killers are 20-35 year old men -- that age when men realize that they're not going to be big successes, and are instead going to be failures, by and large, and the excuse that something will come down the line no longer seems plausible.

Hit these people where it matters: Their egos. They are doing this for ego; refuse them that self-flattery.

This is not simply a matter of words. Collectively, we must take concrete steps to address the danger posed by religiously motivated fanatics, and the trends that fuel their recruitment.

"Fanatics" is nicely insulting but he has to understand, to them, it's not fanatacism. It's heroism.

He has to explain to these subhumans butchering women and children is not heroic.

...

This group has terrorized all who they come across in Iraq and Syria. Mothers, sisters and daughters have been subjected to rape as a weapon of war. Innocent children have been gunned down. Bodies have been dumped in mass graves. Religious minorities have been starved to death. In the most horrific crimes imaginable, innocent human beings have been beheaded, with videos of the atrocity distributed to shock the conscience of the world.

No God condones this terror. No grievance justifies these actions. There can be no reasoning -- no negotiation -- with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force. So the United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death.

Not bad! One of the more helpful passages!

However, again the critique: In their minds, a "network of death" is not necessarily a bad thing.

As ridiculous as this may sound: I think Obama has to explain why a "network of death" is a bad thing.

Yes, I think he does have to do that. He has to know his audience-- and his audience here is not necessarily opposed to barbaric murder.

Those who continue to fight for a hateful cause will find they are increasingly alone. For we will not succumb to threats; and we will demonstrate that the future belongs to those who build -- not those who destroy.

"Destroy." Let me say something about that word.

When people make movies intended for children, but which contain violence, they substitute the word "destroy" for "kill." That's why violent cartoons say "destroy" rather than "kill" or "murder." That's why, I think, George Lucas uses the word "destroy" whenever he means "kill" in his later, more childish Star Wars films.

It's a weak word. It's used in children's cartoons.

Please, Mr. President -- butch it up.

It is not that these people "destroy." Indeed, just six paragraphs ago you stated your hope that the coalition would, one day, "destroy" IS.

You seem to be very uncomfortable with speaking of violence as having either a moral or immoral purpose, and thus cannot properly annunciate what it is you are specifically denouncing.

For the sake of us all, please get over this.

Second, it is time for the world -- especially Muslim communities -- to explicitly, forcefully, and consistently reject the ideology of al Qaeda and ISIL.

It is the task of all great religions to accommodate devout faith with a modern, multicultural world. No children -- anywhere -- should be educated to hate other people. There should be no more tolerance of so-called clerics who call upon people to harm innocents because they are Jewish, Christian or Muslim. It is time for a new compact among the civilized peoples of this world to eradicate war at its most fundamental source: the corruption of young minds by violent ideology.

A lot of abstractions there, but he does challenge these "clerics" as "so-called clerics."

Deny them the flattery they offer themselves. Good.

That means cutting off the funding that fuels this hate. It's time to end the hypocrisy of those who accumulate wealth through the global economy, and then siphon funds to those who teach children to tear it down.

Good. This is oblique but he can't be faulted for not saying "Saudi Arabia" and "Qatar." This can be hinted at.

...

The ideology of ISIL or al Qaeda or Boko Haram will wilt and die if it is consistently exposed, confronted, and refuted in the light of day. Look at the new Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies – Sheikh bin Bayyah described its purpose: "We must declare war on war, so the outcome will be peace upon peace." Look at the young British Muslims, who responded to terrorist propaganda by starting the “notinmyname” campaign, declaring -- "ISIS is hiding behind a false Islam." Look at the Christian and Muslim leaders who came together in the Central African Republic to reject violence -- listen to the Imam who said, "Politics try to divide the religious in our country, but religion shouldn’t be a cause of hate, war, or strife."

Not bad. Again, challenging the ideology that gives them permission to murder.

Skipping some more bloodless abstractions:

My fourth and final point is a simple one: the countries of the Arab and Muslim world must focus on the extraordinary potential of their people -- especially the youth.

Here I’d like to speak directly to young people across the Muslim world. You come from a great tradition that stands for education, not ignorance; innovation, not destruction; the dignity of life, not murder. Those who call you away from this path are betraying this tradition, not defending it.

He finally said "murder." This is a good passage in line with what I'm talking about because while it attacks the particular path of IS and Al-Qaeda, it simultaneously offers an alternate pathway by which a Muslim kid could judge himself successful.

However, this and the following paragraphs, while right, are also getting into that "Feminine Values" thing I think is counterproductive in this context:

You have demonstrated that when young people have the tools to succeed --good schools; education in math and science; an economy that nurtures creativity and entrepreneurship --then societies will flourish. So America will partner with those who promote that vision.

Where women are full participants in a country's politics or economy, societies are more likely to succeed. That’s why we support the participation of women in parliaments and in peace processes; in schools and the economy.

Juvenile males of crude minds don't care about these things and in fact stand opposed to many of them.

It's not that what Obama is saying is wrong. It's that, as I said, he has to pitch this ideation specifically to the sort of mind which is giving us problems.

And that mind belongs, 98% of the time, to a male of a crude and juvenile mind.

I think the things he is talking about can be made to sound Heroic. That is, made to sound like the Ideal of an Angry Young Man Who Would Like to be a Man of Respect.

I wish he would do more in making this sort of a sale.

It can be done. Knights observed -- or at least paid lip-service to -- the chivalric code.

Compassion, inclusion, peaceableness, creativity, industry-- these things can be made to sound Masculine! They can be invested with the Heroic.

They can be made to sound appealing to a rootless young man searching for some meaning and some identity, a mask to slip on and know himself by.

Obama, having been called by his adoptive father a "Muslim" when in Indonesia, is the most extraordinarily well-positioned American president we will likely ever have to make this sort of argument, and have it heard.

Mr. President, do not be too proud to lower yourself to talk in terms a cruder mind will understand.

Because what is going on in the mind of a juvenile serial killer is a weird, toxic swirl of sex, Manhood, heroism, weird politics, and identity.

This is what's going on in their minds (Content Warning for Violent and Sexual Imagery, as well as Nazi Imagery):

You have to address a group in its own language.

Masculine energy, restrained and directed towards positive purposes, is a creative and powerful force.

Unrestrained and directed towards bad purposes, and it's Hell on Earth.

This is all about masculine energy. The men here are the problem, with their confused and pathological notions of dominance and power.

They have to be talked to -- in terms that make sense to them.

Corrected: Commenters tell me that St. George was a Greek.

I have changed the line to agree with Wikipedia: he lived in Roman Palestine.

I have no idea of his actual ethnicity. I assume my commenters are right but I don't really want to invest further time into verifying that.

digg this
posted by Ace at 03:43 PM

| Access Comments




Recent Comments
redc1c4: "Enjoy the fashions the ladies are wearing, and the ..."

Margarita DeVille: "And the HC supporter's argument is that she, HC, i ..."

Insomniac : "Court orders Griner to pay out $8000 a month in ch ..."

rickb223 TEXIT[/s][/i][/b]: ".. local dispensaries around here advertise $35 ei ..."

Starring Miley's Tongue as Paul Kersey: "#402 In the DC area, $540/oz.  Insane. ..."

Bertram Cabot Jr.: " [i]So I see Ambassador Stevens family says don't ..."

Starring Miley's Tongue as Paul Kersey: "316 In other Libertarian news:An initiative that ..."

Mr. Peebles: "Now THIS is art: http://tinyurl.com/zh6rlwq ..."

redc1c4: "I don't actually know it was for weed (and the pri ..."

[/i] [/u] [/s] [/b]An Observation: "By the way, The Daughters of Odessa, as a 3/4 life ..."

Anonosaurus Wrecks, Racist for Dinosaurs: " And in War of the Chtorr news, WNBA girl dribbler ..."

Dave in Fla: ""Sorry, Dave in Fl. Analysis rooted in past cycles ..."

Recent Entries
Search


MuNuvians
Polls! Polls! Polls!
Frequently Asked Questions
The (Almost) Complete Paul Anka Integrity Kick
Top Top Tens
Greatest Hitjobs

The Ace of Spades HQ Sex-for-Money Skankathon
A D&D Guide to the Democratic Candidates
Margaret Cho: Just Not Funny
More Margaret Cho Abuse
Margaret Cho: Still Not Funny
Iraqi Prisoner Claims He Was Raped... By Woman
Wonkette Announces "Morning Zoo" Format
John Kerry's "Plan" Causes Surrender of Moqtada al-Sadr's Militia
World Muslim Leaders Apologize for Nick Berg's Beheading
Michael Moore Goes on Lunchtime Manhattan Death-Spree
Milestone: Oliver Willis Posts 400th "Fake News Article" Referencing Britney Spears
Liberal Economists Rue a "New Decade of Greed"
Artificial Insouciance: Maureen Dowd's Word Processor Revolts Against Her Numbing Imbecility
Intelligence Officials Eye Blogs for Tips
They Done Found Us Out, Cletus: Intrepid Internet Detective Figures Out Our Master Plan
Shock: Josh Marshall Almost Mentions Sarin Discovery in Iraq
Leather-Clad Biker Freaks Terrorize Australian Town
When Clinton Was President, Torture Was Cool
What Wonkette Means When She Explains What Tina Brown Means
Wonkette's Stand-Up Act
Wankette HQ Gay-Rumors Du Jour
Here's What's Bugging Me: Goose and Slider
My Own Micah Wright Style Confession of Dishonesty
Outraged "Conservatives" React to the FMA
An On-Line Impression of Dennis Miller Having Sex with a Kodiak Bear
The Story the Rightwing Media Refuses to Report!
Our Lunch with David "Glengarry Glen Ross" Mamet
The House of Love: Paul Krugman
A Michael Moore Mystery (TM)
The Dowd-O-Matic!
Liberal Consistency and Other Myths
Kepler's Laws of Liberal Media Bias
John Kerry-- The Splunge! Candidate
"Divisive" Politics & "Attacks on Patriotism" (very long)
The Donkey ("The Raven" parody)
News/Chat
Archives
Powered by
Movable Type 2.64