Monday, November 1, 2010

Fortune, fear, and reading comprehension

From Grim’s, I got to this article about Europe’s sense of being helpless in the face of the forces that control our destiny. Among other things - it’s well worth reading the entire article - the author says:

One of the most important ways in which today’s sense of diminished subjectivity is experienced is through the feeling that individuals are being manipulated and influenced by hidden powerful forces. [snip]

The crisis of causality means that the most important events are now seen as being shaped and determined by a hidden agenda. [snip]

In previous times, that kind of attitude was mainly held by right-wing populist movements, which saw the hand of a Jewish or a Masonic or a Communist conspiracy behind all major world events. Today, conspiracy theory has gone mainstream, and many of its most vociferous promoters can be found in radical protest movements and amongst the cultural left. Increasingly, important events are viewed as the products of a cover-up, as the search for the ‘hidden hand’ manipulating a particular story comes to dominate public life. [snip]

Some time later I was reading Anglachel. She was talking about what she refers to as David Broder’s “proposal” that President Obama use confrontation with Iran to come storming back in time for 2012.* Among other things, Anglachel says:

David Broder has put into words what is on the Collectively Wise Mind of the Very Serious People in DC [snip]

And Broder's proposal is being taken seriously by at least some people in the White House or it wouldn't have seen the light of day. [snip]

I find it all too plausible that the Very Serious People are in greater accord on this idea than we'd like to think.

I dunno. I’m pretty sure writers come out with all kinds of ideas no one in power takes seriously. After all, Paul Krugman complains endlessly that no one in power takes his ideas seriously.


*Just for the record, characterizing Broder’s column as containing a “proposal” - that is, as calling for Obama to escalate tensions with Iran in order to win in 2012 - is a mischaracterization. Broder is not urging Obama to start a war with Iran or to cynically escalate tensions with Iran to pump up his chance of re-election. Rather Broder is convinced that over the course of the next two years the United States will have to “confront this threat and contain Iran's nuclear ambitions” because “Iran is the greatest threat to the world in the young century”. If Obama can “confront” and “contain” Iran then, says Broder:

he will have made the world safer and may be regarded as one of the most successful presidents in history.

In the process of doing this, Obama will bolster his own popularity both directly and, through the economic impact, indirectly. In other words, the situation with Iran gives Obama an opportunity to do well politically by doing the right thing substantively, an opportunity that will not be available to any of Obama’s opponents. Broder is being descriptive rather than prescriptive. Not necessarily correct - after all, Broder also says flatly that Obama “is much smarter than his challengers in either party” - but hardly urging war as a continuation of electoral politics by other means.

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