A Cautious Man
November 14, 2003
The Worst Sort of Conversation
There are some signs that political discourse is going to take an even nastier turn in the next year. As an example:
Ted Rall wrote this piece, in the "voice" of an Iraqi attacking Americans, but really as a critique of how the Administration has approached and conducted the war. It's pretty close to the line in terms of taste, but it raises an important issue: Perception is a big deal, if the people decide to attack and kill our people based on how they view us.
Naturally, there are some people who will use this as a chance to "A Ha!". For example, James Lileks:
I suppose it's intended to help us understand the mindset of the enemy. Eh. The French have a saying: his head, it is filled with urine. Or they should have such a saying; I'm sure it would sound elegant and dismissive. These people aren't the loyal opposition anymore; they're just the opposition. They may say they love America, but they love some idealized nonexistent America that can never exist as long as there's individuality and free will. They're like people who say they love women and beat their wife because she doesn't look like the Playboy centerfold. I'm sick of the lot of them. As for Rall, who cares about him? He'll get his reward: the great yawning indifference of history. If people barely remember Kelly and Capp nowadays, what are the chances that they'll remember someone who appeared to draw with his thumb?I wonder if Gnat knows he uses that kind of language? A different perspective comes from a lesser-known individual, whose weblog was pointed out by Bill Cork on Ut Unum Sint. Jason Van Steenwyk, on IraqNow, describes himself as a U.S. Army Officer corresponding from Iraq. He wrote an entry on the same Rall piece, in which he noted:
Ok, Rall's got a tin ear. Especially publishing something like that on Veteran's Day. He's a big boy. He's got no right to complain.I guess I liked that take on it, because I had also thought of Swift's Modest Proposal when I read some of the fulminating about Rall's piece. But, the above said it better than I could.
But, folks, there's also this thing called "irony." The classic, literary theory definition of "irony" is not quite the same as the sense in which the word has come into common usage. The literary theory definition of irony is this: irony is a construction whereby the ostensible meaning of the text is the opposite of the point the author wishes to convey.
(See, I knew that useless degree in literature would come in handy someday.)
Now, in this case, it can't be said that Rall wants to convey is the opposite of the meaning of the surface text. But the same is true of Jonathan Swift's classic of literary irony, A Modest Proposal.
I don't think Andrew Sullivan or any of the rest of the conservative pack of blogs currently chewing on Rall would suggest that Swift was a bowler-hat-wearing, crown-worshipping, Leprechaun-molesting, Ireland-hating Prod because he penned an essay proposing the killing and eating of Irish children.
So why is it necessary that Ted Rall must be a sniveling, terrorist-sympathizing America-hater because he pens his own essay encouraging the killing of American soldiers in Iraq?
This is only one skirmish in what may be a longer, nastier dispute. As Jonathan Swift also wrote: Argument, as usually managed, is the worst sort of conversation, as in books it is generally the worst sort of reading.