Realism and Certainty: Making Sense of Mayhem
Riots are breaking out in Europe, disclosure is in the wind, and President Obama has just made comments to Bob Woodward that beg interpretation.
Not like I can cover all these events right now. I can’t. But I can cover the context in which we hold them.
My comment is about our tendency to use ordinary rules of logic to understand the responses of political and social leaders.
We tend to see events in much simpler ways than I think they are structured. We also tend to interpret our leaders’ actions according to simple standards of consistency, honesty, etc., when they are operating out of the perceived needs of the moment and when their very own output of the last moment may be the stimulus to action in this present moment.
The area of events that has troubled me the most in regard to the first question (viewing events in simpler ways than they’re constructed) is assassinations. I apologize for raising such a subject with you, but it troubles me and it is a feature of our common life that we’re called upon to make sense of.
I often find myself asking, why did they eliminate so-and-so? And who did it? My answers seldom allow me to see a pattern.
I seldom consider that my very search for a pattern may be causing me my problems.
I tend to see “Murder Inc.” as a particular and singular entity that bumps off people according to a rational and monolithic agenda. If someone was assassinated, it was because he angered some entity called “Murder Inc.”
But, as I watch the elimination of so many people, like Billy Cooper, Phil Schneider, Rep. Paul Gilmor, John Kennedy Jr., Tim Russert, Chris Story, Matt Simmons, and many, many others, I begin to suspect that things are not happening the way I think they are.
I’ve come to suspect that there are a wide variety of organizations – alphabet agencies like the CIA, FBI, NSA, MI6, Mossad, etc., private corporations that employ hired guns, the military – who are behind these assassinations and that they bump off anyone who simply annoys them enough. They don’t have a coordinated agenda. Each one, I’m beginning to suspect, responds when they become irritated with or afraid of someone else.
I don’t think they proceed as we think of companies proceeding. There isn’t a department responsible for arriving at a list of victims. There isn’t a supervisor who agrees to the list and obtains the buy-in of company officers. In many cases, I don’t think it’s a rational, well-ordered activity and our tendency to represent it as such has us miss much about the truth of the matter.
I also don’t think we’ll know the truth of the matter until our sources reveal it. I think it’s too well hidden.
By the same token, we may tend to judge a leader’s behavior by simple standards of consistency, honesty, and transparency when that leader frames his or her activity by the perceived needs of the moment, never mind consistency, honesty, and transparency.
I seldom read long books about complex events like the Kennedy assassination, or Watergate, or the Iraq War. I just don’t have the time for it and leave it to the career analysts.
However it isn’t lost on me that, when they produce their analyses, they don’t write slim volumes of 40-100 pages. They usually write giant tomes of 500 pages and more. Even Seymour Hersh’s reports are longer than most magazine articles.
The explanations of any leader’s actions are seldom short and sweet, simple and elegant.
Most of us are not involved in earth-shaking decisions. Our decisions are made on the basis of relatively straightforward ways and means. We don’t play on Zbigniew Brzezinski’s grand chessboard. We don’t engage in mental swordplay.
We don’t see people as changing sets of interests drawing on fixed or limited resources. None of us could be described as Machiavellian. None of us probably consider ourselves devious or strategic.
We often make our decisions by considering our likes and dislikes of the moment. Our horizons are not vast. Our considerations mainly concern life in the here and now.
Once we release our viewpoint that expects criminal organizations to be rational and our leaders to be consistent, we may be seeing matters more realistically, but we’ll also have lost our unrealistic sense of certainty which our simplistic analytical tools appeared to give us.
The question then becomes whether we want to continue to be unrealistic and certain or realistic and uncertain.
But, given the way this world just may be structured at this moment, it doesn’t seem that we can have both realism and certainty.