Sunday, February 21, 2016

On the fringes, a lost post and spring's soft touch

It's almost spring here in the Pacific NW, and that gray smeared  cold weather is slowly losing a few battles here and there to patches of blue sky—that relief whose sharp edges are crusted by bright white clouds. One can feel the earth opening up again—with that staph-soil smell filling the air, people chattering in the streets, instead of just stumbling about drunk—for a beautiful spring. Let's move from that weather talk, though and to the theaters, where a movie called The Witch [1] plays to much acclaim. 

The very idea of witches has always interested me, though for different reasons, off late. When I was younger, I accepted the trope that out there in the edge of the woods something evil lurks, and that evil can be the witch. My affinity for Macbeth also hinged on those sisters three. But since youth has faded I look to witches as a description of something else, something more good than sinister. 

Mainly, that they're the scapegoat for any peoples or society. I wrote earlier about a great book I read on Africa and how colonial (and post-colonial governments) treated those who threatened to usurp power as those who were mad or on the fringes [2]. So it goes, but it's not hard to see that witches, some possibly driven to some level of madness by the society they were living in, would leave it and live apart, in the forests.

But what is interesting is the fact that the society would always use them, use witchcraft, as a scapegoat. And I see it in today's society. Sure, there are no accusations of witchcraft, or few that we take seriously, but there is still the underlying heuristic in the sense that we have the conventional way of doing things and unconventional way [3]; and the unconventional way is usually frowned upon and also used as scapegoat when things go  wrong. On the other hand, the conventional way gains way too many reprieves when it doesn't work. So for many leaders, it's better to fail conventionally than risk unconventional means. [4]

I see that many people with regard to Iraq and Syria state that not enough was done, that perhaps more bombing would have helped. Nevermind that bombing hasn't helped yet in any of these situations (not without some good political and ground game... this conventional view is less view and more a fetish). And yet, those who talk about peace are blamed for much of the bad that happens in foreign policy. [5]

A joke, almost, but it's one that must be confronted. Any society, if it's to survive must always balance the conventional with the unconventional, and should have a way of shouldering those ideas without punishing the messenger. Certainly it cannot only be tied to the powers that be. 

And make no mistake, an uphill struggle this is. As the ubiquitous witch story shows, it's something ingrained in our brain and something that the powers that be take advantage of. But we should still try to fight it, to take upon the Sisyphean struggle, because that way lies the light. 

Update 04Mar2016: I should note, again, that when one is on the fringes, it's not like one doesn't meet people that one should avoid (probably in the center too). So this too means conspiracy theorists who think that every shadow of power is a conspiracy (then go through extreme measures to come up with something grand). That those in power usually try to cloak themselves is something to be fought with the light (of democracy and other methods), but it also means that if one chases all attempts where there is obfuscation the people in power—if they're smart, and they are—will want to discredit those trying to shine light and so will hide even the good things so that they have ammo to discredit others.

Does this make sense? Well, when I point out things that are full of historical truths, but kept hidden, I usually run up against others who agree, then point out some other conspiracy (chemtrails etc). Again, the only solution is to expand access to information and not letting the people in power hide, but it ain't easy.
/end rant

Update 05 Mar 2016:  Upon further review, the above post seems a little whiny and disengaged from reality. Allow me to present a case study: the accusation that the anti-war left aided and abetted the Khmer Rouge during their genocide of the Cambodian people. [6] This usually comes in the form of attacks on Chomsky. You know, when Chomsky denied all atrocities and thus all atrocities were lain upon his doorstep [7].

Let's put aside the fact that he (and the anti-war left) are blamed for these atrocities. [8] Let's assume that everyone has good intentions: those close to power are always more silent, more forgiving about what their own side does. for example, less is said about how soon after the Khmer Rouge was pushed out of power by the Vietnamese they were supported by the US (and China) only because of their opposition to Vietnam. They say even less about the bombing that led to the Khmer Rouge's rise. For the main point is the charade, the theater needed to make those on the left complicit for ever raising their voice against the powers that be.

Hence my post about the fringe and how it's the convenient scapegoat. Again, I'm aware that this is partially human nature [9], but it's something that I must always be wary of while considering that extreme conspiracy theorists make it harder for those on the fringe. [10] This wariness leads me to be cynical about much of what I hear, but especially of those attacks levied against those on the fringes. take France, and it's treatment of gypsies or Arabs. I remain highly skeptical of any and all of France's claims to innocence. Is this right, though?

[1] And I might watch this film because it seems to be a good psychological thriller, but I do know what happens in the movie and it too plays to the trope of evil in the woods. Whatever the hell that really means in the film and in the director's mind, it still plays to trope (and maybe horrors need to do just that, as an accepted trope that leads to fear is easier to tap) and platitudes that make up our national myths (for one, if anything set in frontier country doesn't show the horrors of the general population and only of the fringes is damn near propaganda, like it or not) {a}

[2] As well as the circular fact that those who dared to confront the status quo would either be driven mad or driven to the fringes and labelled mad. 

[3] I think society has certainly improved from the past and in many fields to day people are willing to listen to the unconventional way if it proves itself to be extremely more fruitful. Of course, this doesn't mean that initial bias isn't there or isn't there for the more complicated fields (or especially those tied to the powers that be). So I'll be more specific here and say that this is extremely pronounced when it comes to confronting national myths and other powerful, harder to discern mechanisms in society.

[4] Again, I don't mean to sound naive. I understand perfectly that for any organization there will be an entrenched way of doing things and it stands to reason that the new way will face more resistance as it usually will have more initial costs and no real way of proving itself (yet). There will, as always, be more people with much invested in the old way and they won't want the new way. But even with all that, it doesn't mean that there isn't a point where doing things the old way is more of a bias, a belief, than a real opportunity cost calculation.

[5] With the entire national state apparatus, one can see something like a faith creep up and the high-priests (NSA etc) demand not to be questioned and people who do are blamed for anything that goes wrong. So note that this is different than merely an opportunity cost of switching and more about the powers that be using the bias against the unconventional for their monetary and status benefits.

{a} Oh my, should I even get into the rabbit-hole this takes me down, that of all the interesting fringe characters of Colonial New England, random forest-women with specific rituals labeled as "witchcraft" would be the least interesting (and if one were to focus on that character, what societal actions actually drove them there would be more interesting my half than some ode to "evil"). There are French priests who were willing to help the natives while the "non-evil" slaughtered them for being the proclaimed opposite. And so it goes.

[6] Oh, yes, I know, it's all propaganda, but still, bear with me. 

[7] Note, this is part of the deal in being against the powers that be, part of being on the fringe: you will be slandered against, and part of that includes having atrocities blamed upon you. Now, I wonder how much of this is merely an effect of human behavior with us vs them compounded by the need to side with power

[8] Especially when the ones blaming are crying crocodile tears over this. For any atrocities "their side" commits are broken eggs for the proverbial omelet. And in fact this is just what Chomsky said about the situation: that always, atrocities by the other is always highlighted over atrocities by one's own group. His example was East Timor and its genocide (completely allowed by the US, UK & Australia) was highlighted in contrast to the treatment of Cambodia. 

[9] One can always sense it in certain group settings.

[10] Thus I'm always confronted with the specter that all accusations launched against those in power are not always accurate. The fact that power limits information helps with this: even a few people who launch wild accusations are then used to paint others. If we take this full circle to my witch hypothesis (or even the madness on the fringes theory), it means that there is some good reason to doubt those on the fringes. But is it any more than those in the center of power?

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