Friday, January 22, 2016

We're off to slay the Wizard!

David Brooks has a peculiar memory:
The fact is, for all the problems we may have with Wall Street or Washington, our biggest problems are systemic — the disruptions caused by technological progress and globalization, mass migration, family breakdown and so on. There’s no all-controlling Wizard of Oz to slay.
Watch your tropes, David! The job isn't to kill the Wizard, it's to get him to send you back to Kansas, where Toto buried your happiness out behind the storm cellar. And the problem is he—the Wizard, not Toto—can't do it for you, it's really up to you:

Image via.
Power, and potency, are on Brooksy's mind today. He's riffing off a fun essay by Anand Giridharadas on the theme of the 2016 election campaign being—this is a case where most sides do it—that whoever you are, you think somebody else has all the power:
Who runs the world?
Beyonce says girls. Bernie Sanders says billionaires. Donald Trump says China. Unions say big corporations. Big corporations say start-ups. Start-ups say regulators. Regulators say politicians. Politicians say donors. Donors say the grass roots.
That last bit straight from the lips of Brooks's less-evil Canadian twin, apparently openly representing the donors himself, or maybe that revelation should be regarded as an editing slip:
Some members of the establishment, most notably David Frum, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, have recently sought to explain the new dynamic to their colleagues by arguing that the power, this time around, belongs to the grass roots, not Washington insiders and their donor patrons.
Yet Mr. Sanders and Mr. Trump are thriving precisely by persuading voters that Washington insiders and donor patrons have all the power…
Americans, says Giridharadas, are suffering from an "anxiety of impotence", and that's a phrase that inevitably speaks to our David, loudly. Only he doesn't want to write about the presidential campaign, this being a spriritual awareness Friday on the Brooksian calendar, so he flails about anxiously and impotently trying to make it about something else, from 1930s colonial Burma (a long intro evocation of Orwell's "On Shooting an Elephant") to the contemporary colonized West Bank, where
In the Palestinian territories, for example, young people don’t organize or work with their government to improve their prospects. They wander into Israel, try to stab a soldier or a pregnant woman and get shot or arrested — every single time. They throw away their lives for a pointless and usually botched moment of terrorism.
Happily, no. Most young people do not wander into Israel to stab somebody; thanks for publicly acknowledging for once that the Occupied Territories are occupied, credit where credit is due, but in the first place the vast majority of these attacks take place in the West Bank or East Jerusalem, not in Israel, in an atmosphere of extraordinary terror since last October when the attacks started:
The violence of Jews against Arabs this time has reached a scale the likes of which we cannot remember," one unnamed officer told the Israeli columnist Nahum Barnea in Yedioth Ahronoth last week. "Israelis uprooted hundreds of the Arabs' olive trees, demolished houses, vandalised cars. Violence spurs counter-violence."[187] OCHA reported that over the week 29 September-5 October, 794 Palestinians had been injured in the West Bank and east Jerusalem:10% from live fire, 25% from rubber bullets. The Palestinian red Crescent Society treated 1,298 people injured by Israeli forces over the period 2-7 October75 had been shot by live ammunition, 344 by rubber-coated steel bullets. 20 suffered from severe beatings.20 Red Crescent ambulances had been attacked by settlers or soldiers or subject to checkpoint delays over the same period. The Palestinian Ministry of Health calculated from its hospital registries that, from October 1, 165 had been hit by live fire, and 375 had been injured by rubber-coated metal bullets. A further 150 had received treatment in Jerusalem's Al-Maqassad hospital for wounds from one or the other type of ammunition.[188] .... The Palestinian NGO Al-Haq documented 28 instances from 28 September to 4 October, ranging from stone throwing, beatings, burning crops, to gunfire. On several occasions Israeli forces present had refrained from intervening, according to Yesh Din.[188]
And of the 600,000 or so Palestinians between 15 and 24, certainly less than 0.05% have engaged in such horrible attacks in spite of the desperation of their situation (it's really hard to get trustworthy numbers, but that much is clear), while there must be many thousands involved in youth organizations, because there are many dozens of such groups, although these numbers continue to decline as the situation fails to improve, with the intransigence of the Netanyahu government and the settler movement, and the organizations themselves inevitably take a more and more militant tone.

The Orwell essay is about occupied territory too, of course, but it's not exactly about Orwell's anxiety of impotence, as Brooks suggests:
In his essay nobody feels like they have any power. The locals, the imperial victims, sure didn’t. Orwell, the guy with the gun, didn’t feel like he had any. The imperialists back in London were too far away.
The imperialists were right there! Orwell was one of them! Though also, of course, already a committed anti-imperialist in conviction, hating his job. What he's doing in the essay isn't for God's sake complaining that he didn't have any power, he's demonstrating the unsustainable absurdity of the situation in which he is supposed to command these people who ought to be commanding themselves but can't, because of the Empire.

A realist, Brooks understands we can't actually get back to 1904 Kansas; instead, he suggests (when he finally does get drawn, helplessly, into the primary campaign), we should rebuild it in the present:
we’ll have to repair big institutions and have functioning parties and a functioning Congress. We have to discard the anti-political, anti-institutional mood that is prevalent and rebuild effective democratic power centers.
Hello, Planning Department? You got that? Call if you have a problem.

And please don't shoot the Wizard, he is doing his best. Be sure to read, or reread, "Shooting an Elephant", which is incredibly great, and have a nice day.

And for further discussion, see Driftglass

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