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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: January 23, 2005
Latest Update: January 23, 2005

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Don't You Believe in Freedom?

World Media: Bush Inaugural a Jolt By Jim Bencivenga. The Christian Science Monitor. Friday 21 January 2005. Original Christian Science Monitor Online. Backup.

There are several resources you will at least want to skim to take reasonable part in this discussion:

The Issues:

  1. Why did Bush not mention Iraq in the inaugural speech of 2005?

    Consider regroup and redefine. Most reports suggest that the insurgents or terrorists, depending on the interpretation you give, are not going away. Iraq is at the moment a huge debacle. At the very least the war in Iraq is killing Americans every day in the name of catching the bad guys and protecting us from their immediate threat. So you need to choose new soundbites that will offer a different interpretation to those who are too tired, or too overworked, or too lazy to move past one-sided arguments onto two-sided governance discourse. Freedom and liberty are good buzz words. Everybody knows what you mean by them, or dominant discourse tells them that they know what you mean by them. Bush's inaugural address took on the cloak of liberty, justice, freedom, goodness and light. Hard to come up with two-sided arguments to get the attention of the people who get their news from the mass media on TV to show the distortion and obfuscation that make the rest of the world saw through. (Of course, they could see through it more easily because their dominant discourse didn't prepare them to believe that those buzz words always go with the "good" side. Note how dominant discourse is socially constructed, and so changes as you change with nation-states, ethnic groups, race, gender, etc. Different social constructions of these divisions leads to different interpretations even of the one-sided icons.

    Example: Look at what the Christian Monitor says about the London Times reaction to the inaugural speech (from Truthout):

    Much more empathetic with the Bush administration's take on history, the Times of London editorialized:

    The US will continue to regard the threat posed by radical Islamists, the dangers of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the behavior of rogue states such as North Korea with more urgency than France and Germany. These countries should ask themselves whether their assessment of these perils is so much more modest because of evidence, or the inconvenience that acknowledging their intensity would entail. They might also ponder what it is about the promotion of freedom that they regard as so alien and objectionable.

    Wow. "What is it about the promotion of freedom that we regard as so alien and objectionable?" Yep, we seem to be the bad guys. We consider freedom alien and objectionable. Hmmm. I thought freedom was not taking the other guy's country by superior gun power. I find it hard to interpret killing a 100,000 or so people as bringing them freedom. Well, if you're being ironic, yeah, they're free, but that's not my kind of freedom.

    The London Times puts words in my mouth. I either agree when Bush says we brought freedom to Iraq, and are now bringing it to the whole world, or we find freedom alien and objectionable. Gee, I thought I found killing a 100,000 people in a pre-emptive war objectionable.

    Here we see the dilemma of the secular humanist trying to have a governance discourse with the conservative trying to justify and maintain the status that came with the premodern, simpler, less complex life where the poor accepted poverty and the rich understood their right to the privilege.

  2. At this point, I'll be happy if you just see the slippery ways in which spin puts a different gloss on everything. I'm bad guy or good guy according to what it is we're defining as freedom. None of these socially constructed concepts at the core of our collective belief systems is that simple and straight forward. Neither are any of our sacred texts. Neither are any our governing systems, which are a hodge podge of what we believe and the reality of "everything that can go wrong will go wrong."

  3. I'll also be happy if you see the conceptual linkage between these varied interpretations and premodern, modern, and postmodern interpretations of our world. Premodern needed mythos, spirituality. That helped people accept what they could not change. But modernism brought technology and geographical mobility and meant that they no longer had to accept inequalities and injustice. The individual could control what happened to him, at least in theory and in part, and so the individual became important with respect to the premodern tradition which focussed more exclusively on the community. We are struggling still with the conflict, very real, between premodern and modern, with the postmodern thrown in as kind of a Greek chorus reminding us that premodern and modern will never agree, so they'll kill each other, and so the world turns.

  4. There seems to be no perfect system of governance or spiritual concensus. Khomeini struggled to creat an Islamic system that would reflect the Islamic tradition. And for a while, he succeeded. As he said, the first revolution of grabbing and maintaining power was easy. But turning that power into a system, even an Islamic system that could realize its goals of social justice an equality proved unattainable. And so even Khomeini's system became intolerant and oppressive. Seems we can't "make" people be good and caring and sharing. The U.S. has made democracy work, at least better than elsewhere, and for a long time. But when we pre-emptively and for the wrong reasons kill hundreds of thousands of people in the name of their freedom, I gotta wonder what's going on.

  5. In the realm of fundamentalist religion and secular humanism, and in the realm of democracy and other form of collective governance our problem seems invariably to end up as an inability to gain concensus. We just can't agree. And we can't agree, we seem not to understand anything at all about anger management.

    li>In an age when we talk about restorative justice circles, and the need to support reintegration into the community, our communities divide along these philosophical approaches to governance and to spirituality. I'm going to suggest this semester that concensus is a social construct we might want to do without or transform in the dominant discourse. Karen Armstrong spends her whole book talking about how fundamentalists can't talk to secularists and vice versa, that they can't even hear each other. Hello! Illocutionary understanding? Just enough not to kill each other? And democracy doesn't even want to talk to socialism, let alone some new form of Isalmic governance. Hello! Illocutionary understanding. Wars kill people and hurt and destroy the earth. So don't agree. But could we be creative enough to talk about governance? Oh, we haven't been taught to that. (Even Habermas worries about that.) So we can teach you to have governance discourse.

    Well, maybe Schwarzenegger will have to give the colleges enough money back to teach governance discourse, but that again gets into what's freedom, what's education, what's justice, and all that stuff we can't agree on. Maybe he could just create a day, A Day for Smashing Circles of Certainty (Freire). Take all the "knowingness" (Lear) out and junk it, and start listening to each other (Bakhtin). Now, there's an idea. Listen to the Other before we kill her.

    I reckon this is enough to lay out at one time. I'll put up discussion questions and detailed references shortly. jeanne

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