Sunday, June 25, 2006

Picking On An Old Friend

A psychiatrist I have known for over twenty years sent me this email, his most recent Letter To The Editor. This is an extremely intelligent person, from whom I learned a great deal about psychiatry years ago. A man of wit and humor, he holds positions of responsibility and a respected reputation in forensic psychiatry. He has had a long-standing tendency to argue via sneer and condescension - which I imagine he would describe as being unwilling to suffer fools gladly - but he is not incapable of constructed arguemnt. And yet... And yet this is what he is currently reduced to under the influence of BDS (Krauthammer 2004).

Stupid George

There once was a village where the town fool was called Stupid George. One year a bear attacked and ate one of the villagers. A few years later Stupid George ran into the town square and announced that he had heard the man-eating bear snoring up in a tree. The villagers followed stupid George into the woods with their guns.

Stupid George went in some bushes and shot his shotgun, yelling “I shot the bear.” The villagers followed and saw that Stupid George hadn’t shot a snoring man-eating bear but instead had shot a buzzing hornet’s nest out of a tree. Stupid George was poking the hornet’s nest with his gun and saying “would you look at that bear?”

The hornets began to fly out and began to sting everybody. Of course all the villagers began to run, except Stupid George who yelled “Are you people going to cut and run? You cowards.”

The village wise man appeared and said: “You people were foolish to follow Stupid George in the first place. Only a fool fights hornets with shotguns. Leave them alone and they will leave you alone. If you listen to his childish taunts about cutting and running you may be even stupider than he is.”

All the villagers left, except a few foolish teenagers known for their trouble making (sic) and their poor judgement and the smiling shopkeeper who made a good business selling shotgun shells to Stupid George and his fools.

This is simply embarrassing to submit before the public. You will note that the little parable lacks a certain literary delicacy which is recommended when imitating Swift. It is ham-handed, over-obvious. Stupid George, for example, is the name that a sixth-grader would give. By highschool, students would at least attempt the irony of George the Genius or some such. Perhaps my friend believes that a large percentage of his readers - the ones he hopes to persuade - will be unable to understand unless it is spelled out. Well, even intelligent people miss satire from time to time; but why alienate the portion of your audience that has wit?

I think the analogy of the bear and the hornets inapt, but such things are permissable in the genre. If I don't like it I can go write my own fable with my own analogy I like better. No objections there. But the use of "coward," as if this is an accusation that Bush has come anywhere near making is a straw man; or worse, a projection.

My response was brief
Well, when you get to construct your own analogy it saves the trouble of conforming the story to the events. That's the beauty of fiction.

His response was also brief, echoing the style of my comment.

When you get to make up your own facts and arrest whoever you want who says it ain't so and make up your own laws - well, that's the beauty of dictatorship.

This is merely lunatic, however common it is currently. (Note: if it is already clear to you why this sort of hyperbole has no place in serious argument, you may skip to the end. It's going to be tedious otherwise.) "...arrest whoever you want who says it aint so..." is there even one example in the last five years of someone being arrested for disagreeing with George Bush, or for disagreeing with anyone? I think the accusation may stem from two current issues. People suspected of aiding terrorists, including two American citizens, are being held under premises that some Americans consider insufficient. The rhetoric of hyperbole accompanies the complaint, so that terms like fascist get dragged in, but that is the point of contention. There are offered constitutional and legal justifications for the surveillance, arrest, and incarceration of these individuals. Courts have upheld some of these interventions and disallowed others, and the legal decisions are being appealed by everyone. But the assertion "...arrest whoever you want," as if neocons were patrolling the streets pointing out folks they wanted locked up is just ludicrous. The left might predict that such things are next if we let Nefarious George proceed unchecked - and I welcome that trivially easy debate - but there is nothing like that now.

The second issue tied in may be that George Bush has answered his critics publicly, and this is thought to be a chilling silencing of dissent. People disagree with Bush and he has the temerity to answer back. And some of his friends even call names, too!

"...make up your own laws...," I imagine, refers to those places where the administration has claimed constitutional authority that precedes the legislative authority of Congress on a related but not identical issue. In making this claim, the current White House is following the precedents of all previous holders of the office, including most especially his immediate predecessor Bill Clinton. As to degree, Dubya does not come close to the overreach of authority attempted by Clinton, Carter, Johnson, Kennedy, Truman, and Roosevelt - the most recent Democratic presidents. He is not even on the scoreboard with those guys.

"...the beauty of dictatorship." Does this even need comment? These days, I suppose it does. I would hope that even the most deranged Kossack does not believe we are currently in a dictatorship.* The argument must be that we are on the path to dictatorship, which is gradually coming upon us unawares. Creeping fascism, perhaps. My brief scan of the rise of dictators in the past century suggests that they come to power amidst a good deal of violence and bloodshed. Pol Pot, The Russian Revolution, Castro, Pinochet, Mao - they didn't quietly assume power and then methodically strip the citizens of rights. Even the major exceptions, Hitler and Mussolini, were bumping people off pretty regularly within a year. If Bush 43 is trying to become a dictator, he's running out of time.

"...make up your own facts..." In light of the above, that shoe seems to be on the other foot.

*I was wrong here. There was a poll over at Daily Kos that over 80% of those who answered believe we are under fascism in all but name. The words fascism and dictatorship now officially have no denotative meaning. They are now meres words of connotation: Bad. Category: Political.


Dr. Sanity said...

Don't you understand that when the U.S. is controlled by the evil Republicans--it is fascism by definition?

When the Democrats are in control, birds sing and the world is at peace.

David Foster said...

The letter is a good example of much current political speech, in that it doesn't appear designed to *convince* anyone to change their position on the issue at hand. I always wonder why people write or say such things. In some cases, it's probably to solidify their bona fides with those on the same side; in other cases, it's probably just an expression of anger without any real purpose in the world outside the self.

Gagdad Bob said...

Hmm, I think I get the Doctor's subtle allegory. But the real question is, if Stupid George is only shooting at hornets in Iraq, why are all the bears flooding Iraq to defend the hornets?

Anonymous said...

Back in 1946, George Orwell, in his essay "Politics and the English Language," stated that "the word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies 'something not desirable.'"

Kurt said...

This spring, the university where I work put on a production of an Australian play entitled: Myth, Propaganda and Disaster in Nazi Germany and Contemporary America. The premise of the play is that a university lecturer dares to criticize the government and winds up under some sort of official persecution. A British reviewer of the play commented (apparently in earnest):
For its case is that it's not just the horrific carte blanche given by the Patriot Act for secret detention and techniques akin to torture that is stifling American freedom, but the manufactured culture around it. It's easy, suggests Sewell, to dismiss those who worry about such abuses as being paranoid, or even as intent on destabilisation themselves. It's also hard to resist falling into patterns of self-censorship. (Think of all those TV stations which recently decided not to screen the expletive-dusted Saving Private Ryan for fear of subsequent licence renewal problems.) Thus, writing off this play as flawed and overdone would be a testimony to the reality of the cultural and political climate it depicts. And not just in America: the character of Finch, like the author, is Australian, and the play makes plain that as America goes, so shortly afterwards go all of our nations.
(You can find that review here .) I think that's yet another example of how BDS and the predicament of your "old friend" works: for someone (such as yourself or Dr. Sanity) to point out that people like the playwright or your old friend (or for that matter, the Dixie Chicks) are the very practitioners of the distorted, illogical propaganda which they claim to see everywhere in the Bush administration is somehow--by their twisted logic--to become their oppressor. But what would one expect from those who live in a postmodern world, where even speaking critically is often referred to in terms of "doing violence"?

J. Peden said...

Rip Van Winkle then happened to awake, asking if the Hornets were still being troublesome regarding the requirement that they remove their stingers which resulted from the rebuff and curtailment they had received at the hands of the United Ecosystem, which they had attempted to imbalance by taking over a peaceful honey bee hive to have its bountiful product, the bounty yet strangely hated by many of its Liberalators due to their fear of addicting honey lust, the root of all evil, according to their Religion of peace, too. For they had tasted it as well and knew it had possessed them.

Apprised of the successful rearrangement and purge of the nest, and noting Stupid George's resemblance, not so much to his father but to Cowboy Gary Cooper, Rip resolved to consider the significance of Stupid George's future departure from town. He thought it very lucky he awoke when he did, and wondered if it might not be wise to fly the coop, or at least over the nest of very aroused cukoos, or whether he should instead feast on chickens, which the cukoos also bore strong resemblence to. But Rip was, after all, now already being called a chickenhawk, so he figured he might as well act llke one. So he decided to feast, not needing to decapitate the foul fowl, since they were acting like headless ones anyway, and would probably weaken from running into everything as they tried to escape the even now subdued Hornets, and themselves, as had naturally been their wont and role in the system of the Holy Diverse which the headless so insistently created from their troubled dreams, formed as they had to be deep within their posteriors, then emitting alternately in horrible methane blasts and soft soothing mantras.

The rest will be history, which in foresight, Rip deduced, probably looked as good as it will in hindsight, a principle which the cukoos had asserted all along, almost as though they knew well at least their own fate, and which they certainly had tried mightily to bring about, given their intractable and loatheful dislike of themselves, and so they would probably have to agree with their just deserts, along with being also fit desert for Rip and hopefully Stupid George, both of whom will surely well caution themselves against eating the green livers of the biled and yellow jaundiced cukoos. The End.

OBloodyHell said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
OBloodyHell said...

> (Think of all those TV stations which recently decided not to screen the expletive-dusted Saving Private Ryan for fear of subsequent licence renewal problems.)

Contrast, perhaps, with the number of stations who eschewed running the pre-election piece about John Kerry and the Swift Boat debate.

Perhaps the problem is creeping federalist interventionism combined with excessive litigationism, instead.

The former derives from an excess of bureaucrats, not Republicans, while the latter derives from an excess of lawyers.

Am I the only one who thinks we have our systems for producing lawyers and doctors ass-backwards?

Anonymous said...

ed in texas

I'm still wondering when bears started sleeping in trees. Or maybe that's a psychiatric thing.

SC&A said...

Wow. I guess I'm late to the party, but what a story.

As a psychiatrist, your friend misses a great irony. Quoting Kos as a reliable source of opinion is like giving credibility witch doctor therapy.

ELC said...

Think of all those TV stations which recently decided not to screen the expletive-dusted Saving Private Ryan for fear of subsequent licence renewal problems. "All those"? How many were they? Would they have chosen differently during the Clinton administration? And how many other movies do they "edit for content" before they show them? And have always done so.

Anonymous said...


1) There WAS a bear.
2) It DID attack and eat a villager.
3) The Bear WAS still at large.
4) Of all the wise and smart people in the village, only a character named "Stupid George" had enough common sense to arm himself.
5) Of all the wise and smart people in the village, only "Stupid George" had the initiative to go looking for the Bear.

"Stupid George" not so stupid.
"Wise and smart" people appear to think themselves wise and smart by sitting on their asses, unarmed, while waiting for a bear to come back and eat them.

I'm with "Stupid".


J. Peden said...

OBH:"Am I the only one who thinks we have our systems for producing lawyers and doctors ass-backwards?"

The situation will certainly soon call for infinite Assistant Village Idiot and Dr. Sanity clones. I will be content to serve as one of the men in white coats, of which their will no doubt be legions from the newly formed Volunteer Army of unpaid non-illegal Housekeeping and Cleansing Workers perhaps very spontaneously congealed.

Anonymous said...

Stupidist statement in the letter:

"Leave them alone and they will leave you alone."

How anyone can embrace this platitude after 9/11 is beyond my ability to fathom.

Anonymous said...

A true story. When I was 7. We lived in an apartment complex and I got a toy gardenening set for my birthday. I was trying out the rake, raking leaves under a bush. Hidden by the dead leaves was a hornet's nest and I hit it. The hornets swarmed on me and stung me many times. After I was taken care of, my Dad, without asking the aprtment complex management or anyone else for permission, went out and burned the hornet's nest, and no one was ever stung again. So, comparing the hornet's nest stories, should we run away from a hornet's nest and hope we are never stung, or should we destroy the hornet's nest and be sure we will never be stung?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

great answer to the fable.

Anonymous said...

Iron John had once been a hero, now in his latter years served on the village council. Iron John had been long recognized as a staunch supporter of the Village Guard. But, following a series of battles with another village, Iron John began to complain. First he complained that his beloved Guard had been worn out, under equipped but no one paid very close attention. Anxious that he be listened too, after all Iron John had been a hero once, Iron John decided that the time had come to make a big name for himself so that he could lead the Village Council and become famous.

Iron John, one day in a speech before the council, denounced the Sergeant of the Guard as being a murderer. Despite lack of proof, Iron John maintained his accusation, adding to that that the murder was cold blooded and had occurred in the heat of battle. Despite the accusation, the Sergeant of the Guard maintained his innocence and so did many of the other soldiers who knew what battle was like, even if Iron John had forgotten.

There were members of the council that praised Iron John, for he had been a hero in another war, and though he had not greatly distinguished himself, he was given absolute moral authority in things war related. Iron John continued his taunts of the Sergeant of the Guard and all the other soldiers as time went on and those who loved Iron John's outbursts continued to sing his praises.

In disgust, the rest of the soldiers that protected the village quit and refused to soldier anymore.

Then, one day a group of vagabonds called Islamofascists had an uprising within the village, the villagers having been foolish enough to allow them ascendancy and had even called them the Peaceful ones.

As the Village Council was stormed, as Iron John was thrown from the lectern. A particularly brutish fellow placed a knife at Iron John’s throat just as Iron John called for help from the guards. Sadly, there was none forthcoming and Iron John, realizing his folly shed a tear as he lost his head.

The End!