Jan 222011

A follow-up to my previous post about the relationship between politics and insanity: I recently came across this fascinating interview with Manfred Schneider, professor of aesthetics and literary media who has recently written on the subject of assassins and paranoiacs, exploring their stories throughout history and the role they play in present-day politics. In the interview, Schneider places the shooting in Arizona earlier this month into an historical context, describing the shooter, Jared Loughner, not as crazy or irrational, but as “hyper-rational”:

Every assassin is a perceptive observer and interpreter of signs and events. For him, nothing happens by accident. He scrutinizes the world in search of hostile intentions, and he imagines conspiracies everywhere. To us, the outcome seems insane. Yet logic and rationality are key components in the paranoid suppositions arrived at by the assassin. Paranoia is not irrationality but hyper-rationality. Loughner is a very typical example.

Yet this type of hyper-rationality can also characterize the minds of great thinkers and geniuses (such as the fictional character, Sherlock Holmes), who may also be skilled at discovering patterns of meaning in apparently random details or coincidental events. What makes the difference between a perceptive genius of analysis, and the hyper-rational delusions of the paranoiac and would-be assassin? In part, of course, it depends on how accurate or true to reality one’s conclusions are. Yet as Schneider points out, this may be particularly difficult to determine for oneself (Loughner certainly thought his conclusions were accurate), and so another check against paranoid hyper-rationality is the self-reflection and perspective to be gained from engagement with a broader community, which provides a means of examination and communication. Schneider explains, “Without a communicative means of reconciliation with the world around him, he [the paranoiac] begins to create his own system to explain the things that concern and oppress him.”

Once again, we see that the “insanity” of hyper-rationality has social and political undercurrents. Disconnection from a community capable of providing a sounding board for our individual psychological need to seek out meaningful patterns can result in paranoia and delusion. However, as I mentioned in my post last week, there are times when a community or society may itself be neurotic or psychologically unhealthy. The example that Schneider uses to illustrate the difference between delusional and insightful hyper-rationality is itself very telling:

[T]he analysis that then US Secretary of State Colin Powell presented to the United Nations Security Council in February 2003, which concluded that there were mobile biological weapons laboratories in Iraq, was based on the same structure as the lunacy of Adelheid Streidel, who critically injured (German politician) Oskar Lafontaine with a knife in 1990. She believed that there were underground factories in (the Bavarian town of) Wackersdorf, where people were being killed.

Here, the difference is that Powell was speaking for a nation, a community which confirmed and supported the suspicions of WMDs in Iraq, while Streidel acted alone, based solely on her own delusions. Yet we have since learned that there were no such weapons in Iraq, and that the reasons provided for the Iraq War were largely disingenuous, when they weren’t downright fabrications. What does this say about our ability to rely on community to provide us with a trustworthy check on personal paranoia? (And what of the role of dissenters, such as myself and millions all over the world, who were shouted down as traitors and cowards for opposing the war and calling its justifications into question?) Schenider himself cites the societies of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia as examples of communities in which the majority had succumbed to paranoid delusions. We find ourselves faced with the same troubling question that haunted Freud in his later years: what do we do when the society we live in might just be “crazy”?

Especially interesting, to me, is that statistical studies have found a correlation between an increase in paranoia and suspicion within the very societies that tend to be more secular, open and transparent. As Schneider theorizes, it’s as though the more information freely available and accessible to people, the more they tend to doubt its veracity and suspect “something else” is going on behind the scenes. Though Schneider doesn’t offer an explanation for why this might be, it may have something to do with our need to seek out meaning even when confronted with overwhelming amounts of information, or patterns of cause and effect so large or so detailed that they appear to the casual observer to be merely random. Paranoia rears its ugly head in the face of uncertainty and confusion, when we are ill-equipped by our community and by our own mental capacity to integrate and make sense of the world around us in any meaningful way. One of the primary signs of delusion, Schneider points out, is a total lack of uncertainty:

When all of the non-rational moments that are part of reason disappear. That’s when it turns pathological. When there are no longer any doubts in a person’s thoughts, and there is no hesitation in his actions. When empathy is no longer possible and the person becomes consumed by the feeling that it is absolutely necessary that certain things be done to prevent the worst from happening.

How does this relate to Paganism, and to pacifism?

For the latter, I take my cue again from Schneider, in discussing the events of 9/11 — he describes the tragedy as “a lesson in uncertainty,” in which the U.S. faced extreme pressure to step into the paranoid perspective of the terrorists, who imagined the stage of global politics as an epic battle between the West and the Muslim world. In many ways, socially and culturally, this is precisely what happened in this country, and we are still seeing the ramifications of this increase in paranoia in the rhetoric of many politicians on the Right. Yet Schneider also notes a much healthier way of responding: accepting such “black angels of chance” for what they are, unpredictable and often meaningless moments of grief and loss, moments that we may never be able to fully explain or predict. Yet, by acknowledging that it is not mere madness that drives such individuals and leads to such events, we can learn to understand the way that hyper-rationality functions both in individuals and in societies. Such understanding gives us precisely the insight and perspective necessary for the kind of self-reflection that can help us check our own tendencies towards paranoia.

Pacifism, ultimately, is an exercise in confronting uncertainty in just this way — learning to cope with the potential for violence (in both ourselves and in others) without resorting to violence in retaliation or defense, without stepping into the delusions of our attackers who might claim with paranoid certainty that no alternatives exist. Instead, the philosophy of pacifism encourages us to see in the actions of others reflections of our own potentials, so that we might learn from them with empathy and insight while also acting with intention to create alternatives to violence even in the face of doubt or uncertainty.

Paganism, too, can provide a check against the paranoia and delusions of unhealthy hyper-rationality, in two important ways. First, as I discussed in my previous post, it can provide us with a more-than-human community to which we can turn for a “communicative means of reconciliation” with the larger world, even when our human communities seem mired in neuroses. I think it is no coincidence that the societies in which paranoia seems to increase also tend to be societies that encourage a disconnection and isolation from the natural world.

The scientific comprehension and appreciation of ecology provides part of this engagement with the more-than-human natural world, yet Paganism and nature-centered spiritualities more generally also supplement and extend this engagement further through religious activities like prayer, meditation and ritual directed towards the natural world and its many beings and inhabitants, rather than towards a transcendent, supernatural deity. The modern Pagan movement also embraces certain aspects of postmodern philosophy, such as deep play and the celebration of meta-narratives and self- and group-identity creation, which can help to remind us of the “non-rational moments that are part of reason.” Grounded in healthy community, an engagement with the non-rational can provide the perspective, and the wilderness, in which uncertainty and doubt can find a proper home, without giving way to either hyper-rationality or the pure lunacy of irrationality.

  22 Responses to “Further Thoughts on Insanity and Hyper-Rationality in Politics”

  1. Wow, just wow…

    First of, I would say that the hyper-reality thing is interesting, but that insanity is decided by society’s view of the act. Had it been Sarah Palin shot, I suspect many would be calling this man a hero, rather than a lunatic. I wonder what that says about the sanity of people.

    As for Powell, was it malicious lies, or the failure of our Intelligence Agencies? It is true that no WMDs were found. It is also true that Saddam HAD used WMDs in the past, both against his enemies and his own people. Seems logical to go with he had them at some point. That they weren’t there when we got there, doesn’t run counter to the fact that they had been used by him.

    As for the justification of the war, I don’t really care. We’ve had one of the lowest body counts in history, and while each death is a tragedy, I can think of many worse deaths to die than in combat. Since the beginning, I saw it as a son finishing the war of his father and completing what his fore-bearer could not, and regardless of modern morality, by the ancient ways I found this honorable.

    The fact that Saddam was a genocidal monster who slaughtered thousands without care, and that we removed him, is a bonus to me. Yet people here and elsewhere complain about it being an unjust war, that we are the bad guys for going to war, etc. Such paragons of morality are we, I would fear the rise of someone like Hitler in this era, for I fear that irregardless of the deeds of such a person, more voices here would sound the bell of pacifism rather than the horn of war to stop a monster.

    As for the insanity of going after the terrorists responsible for 9/11, I refuse to believe that was insanity. Call it Justice, call it Vengeance, call it what you will. To call a deliberate act of murder mere chance, to take the meaning of the deaths of those who died and throw it away just so that people don’t have to fight, don’t have to feel that they have blood on their hands, however righteous and honorable it may be, to me that is insanity. Had we not gone to war, how many more attacks would there have been upon us? Insanity or not, those that attacked us would have seen only weakness in pacifism, not strength.

    Pacifism rose with Christianity. No pagan society has ever turned its back on the need for violence, nor condemned it as evil. I would recommend you search your soul for the origins of your fear of violence.

    I would advise you to follow the counsel of Gandhi, and accept violence and be violent if it is in your heart, rather than to cloak your impotence in the ways of non-violence.

    • N.A.,

      I appreciate that you feel strongly about these issues – but a pattern seems to be emerging in your commenting that is not conducive to civil discourse on this blog. In fact, your comments often seem to be intentionally disruptive and hostile, and sometimes (as in this case) bear little to no relevance to the ideas addressed in the post.

      I would like to invite you to revisit the Comment Policy and give careful thought especially to the first two points, concerning what counts as “aggressive behavior that might lead to conflict” versus behavior that is likely to foster civil discussion among people who may have different opinions or views. Healthy discussion and lively debate require a certain respect for one another, and can be severely undermined with sarcasm, veiled personal insults and hostile responses to legitimate questions. What you are doing is the equivalent of barging into a round-table discussion and screaming your opinions at the top of your lungs – far from encouraging discussion, it drowns out conversation and prevents others from being able to engage deeply with the ideas. If I were to take time to address every false accusation and decontextualized tangent in your comment, I would derail the entire conversation that this post hoped to provoke. Yet to leave your comment entirely unaddressed would be to imply that I condone this type of commenting style. I don’t.

      Please understand that I am not threatening censorship as some kind of punishment for disagreeing with me. There are examples on this blog and others of disagreement and debate being expressed in civil ways conducive to respectful conversation. Gorm Sionnach’s recent comment on Jeff’s post is a good example – I still very much disagree with his interpretation, but he articulated his ideas in a way that was respectful of disagreement and free from hostility, defensiveness and personal insults. I would appreciate it if you could strive, in future responses, to aspire to a certain level of respect for the writers and fellow readers of this blog by doing the same.

      I do not want to have to censor your comments, because I do believe you have perspectives and ideas that can contribute to the discussions on this blog. However, if you are not willing to do the work yourself of filtering out your ideas from the hostility and defensiveness with which you present them, then in the future I will be deleting hostile or inappropriate comments from my blog posts. (Other writers on this blog are free to do what they think is right in response to such comments, but I for one feel that a more honest and consistent application of the Comment Policy is warranted in this case.)


      • Ali, if I may speak to my defense. I do so here as I have no email with which to contact you personally, and for the fact that I feel some of this should be placed in the open. Neither of us has anything to hide.

        It is not my intention to shout my words and drown out the views of others on here. Indeed, were we in person, all of the above would have been spoken in a calm tone, with a slight hint of questioning. You may find this hard to believe, but it is the truth.

        As for the disruptive and “uncivil” nature of my comments, there is a reason. I am a heathen and thus have no fear of “uncivil” discourse. I am also an alchemist, and realize that for creation there must be destruction, for destruction there must be creation. I seek to pull things apart and analyze them, as well as push others to do the same. In a way, when I see the stream flowing one way without though, I like to be a rock in the middle. The waters churn, but I assure you, the rock is calm.

        I will admit that many of my comments tend to run on tangents. I apologize if this is disruptive, but I view each thought as worthy of being followed and personally feel that each tangent is an important point of viewing the source. However, I understand that not everyone feels this way.

        I also do not seek to levy personal attacks against you or anyone else. However, I do council introspection, and as I feel pagans and heathens are already on their paths because they have the maturity to seek beyond the standard paths, that they are willing to go a little further. My words are not meant as attacks, but questions of interest. These are questions I have asked myself. I do not ask of anyone things I am not willing to do myself. I understand these can lead to painful things, but Truth is worth it in the end. If your opinion is unchanged, then people will still know more about themselves than they did before.

        There is much we can learn from each other. I ask simply that you do not fear disruption that may come from my words. I speak them with all due respect, offering alternatives to view I sometimes see as held a little too tightly that are not being questioned. I know my words can be offensive to some, even if they are not meant as personal insults.

        • Perhaps my political opinions on Iraqi WMDs (at the time) and the proper response to 9/11 are too close to those of Norse Alchemist for me to register his process faults, but I didn’t see any reason to read him the comment code. His conflation of Christianity and pacifism may have been too personally expressed but it’s a point worthy of debate and his expression is well within the combined bounds of what’s appeared here on on the affiliated Wild Hunt.

          NA does sometimes make sweeping statements that are just stunningly inaccurate and maladroit. IMHO they arise from a naively constructed conservatism that has never explored the thinking of the other side with an eye open to the possibility of learning something new. But I see much more personal animus in some regulars who are respected for their intellect.

          • I looked over what NA said, and I really didn’t see anything wrong with it, either. He stated his opinion, which he is entitled. I don’t particularly agree with his posting, as I always thought it was wrong to go to Iraq because Saddam wasn’t our problem. But if NA feels we were justified in going there to bring down a monster, well okay. He can feel that and express it. I don’t have to agree with it, but I respect his opinion.

            I will say he is right about the body count being very low in comparison to other wars. Also, throughout history, it was not unusual for wars to go on for generations, perhaps titled under different names.

            Right now, fathers and sons are enlisting in the Army together, as the cut-off age is 42. To our ancestors, this would not be some kind of revolutionary idea, perhaps provided a younger son was home to take care of mom or whatever. And the way I see it, who else would make a better Battle Buddy than someone who knows you that well?

            So anyway -
            Just because NA, or me, or anyone else, may post an opinion which is in disagreement with the author, that does not mean it’s inflammatory or otherwise in violation of a comment policy.

            Meh, I got better things to worry about, like American Idol’s schedule conflicting with Law & Order: SVU this week. It’s the auditions – the best part! They better not be on at the same time! =:o

        • I want to thank everyone who has weighed in on the issue of N.A.’s comment and its relative incivility.

          I also want to clarify, again, that his rudeness has very little to do with whether or not I agree with his opinions. I know it’s hard to appeal to civil discourse without being accused of trying to control the conversation and only allow comments that express agreement – which is why I already referred to another example of a disagreement expressed respectfully and in a way that furthers conversation. Since everyone who has replied after my request for civility has been careful to use respectful language (including N.A. himself, in his reply where he defended his previous uncivil behavior which, to me, sounds like an acknowledgement that it was intentionally rude) – I’m going to assume that, at some level, we’re all able to recognize the difference between civil and uncivil language online. (To point out one very easy example: a person who is interested in dialoguing about differences of opinion does not start out his comment with a sarcastic, “Wow. Just, wow.” The obvious, dismissive sarcasm sets the tone for the rest of his comment, which is enough to send up warning flags for me even if I hadn’t already noticed a pattern of behavior that extends beyond just his comment on this particular post.)

          I also want to quote directly from the Comment Policy for a second:

          “This site is our ‘hall’, and we expect guests to Pagan+Politics to abide by the concept of hospitality. Spirited discourse, debate, and even vehement disagreement, is fine, but as guests enjoying your stay here, we ask you to remember that hospitality is reciprocal. In return for us assuming your good intentions, and providing a sounding-board on important issues, we ask for to you abide by our guidelines.”

          N.A., in your last response, you defend your use of “uncivil discourse” as part of your Heathen tradition. I can respect that, even if I don’t agree with it. On the other hand, you are enjoying the hospitality of the host and writers of this blog, who envision this blog as a forum for civil discourse. You’re free to be uncivil if you want, but I want you to understand that a violation of the hospitality of this blog will probably lead to a request that you either change your behavior, or leave. No one is trying to stop you from being uncivil if that’s what your tradition teaches – but since we’ve been upfront in requesting that commenters abide by a policy of civility, we’re free to enforce that policy by removing or moderating comments that intentionally violate the hospitality of the site. And I want to point out, again, that the Comment Policy also applies to patterns of incivility as well as individual instances of extreme or blatant rudeness. Subtle or seemingly innocuous behavior in a single instance can become a clear pattern of incivility and hostility over the course of several weeks, especially if time after time we can see that such comments lead to bickering or escalating rudeness rather than further conversation. The proof is in the pudding, as my mom used to say.

          Having talked with Jason about this on several different occasions, he has expressed more than once his frustration over the trollishness and rudeness that often go on in the comment threads both here and over at The Wild Hunt, and lamented that, as one person, he simply can’t moderate and enforce the comment policies consistently except in cases of extreme violations. The incivility on this blog has already led to death threats and other violent language against some of the blog’s writers. I hope we can agree that things need to change, for the better. I can’t monitor the whole blog, but I think I can keep up with comments that appear on my own posts, and do my best to actually apply the Comment Policy fairly, but thoroughly and consistently. This may take some getting used to, but I’m hoping that other writers here will follow suit and we can all help raise the level of discourse beyond partisan bickering and trolling. I’m happy that, since mentioning the Comment Policy, everyone seems to be expressing their opinions in respectful ways, even when they disagree with me. I hope that’s a sign that this approach is already having a beneficial effect. (And I haven’t had to censor any comments after all! Yay!)


          • Actually Ali, that “Wow, just wow” thing wasn’t meant to be sarcastic or dismissive. It was more shock at some ideas I hadn’t thought of. Sometimes I’m sorry that text can’t convey tone of voice or expressions. I think that would clear up a lot of this civil/uncivil issue.

            • It did seem to me that your tone was sarcastic and disrespectful. I am not sure that I would agree that it was uncivil, N.A., but it did undermine my respect for you to a degree… though less so than your out-of-context Gandhi quote, which is either a deliberate misconstruction of a dedicated (non-Christian) pacifist’s philosophies, or a serious misunderstanding of them.

              In either case, I myself would not be in the least inclined to filter out your words from the comments section. (Note: I’m not a contributor here! And the decision is not mine in any way.)

              I’d leave to your readers the sense of how far to respect your words.

          • If people are getting death threats, concern about the level of discourse does indeed go beyond mere attachment to the rules of civility.

  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Lisha Mosure, Pagan + Politics. Pagan + Politics said: Further Thoughts on Insanity and Hyper-Rationality in Politics A follow-up to my previous pos http://bit.ly/fissgA http://bit.ly/fissgA [...]

  3. I like the perspective provided in this article and in the comments. As a Pagan I must ever seek a balance both in my personal life and in the world around me. It is part of my nature.

    Because of that I understand that pure pacificism cannot work in a violent society. Having said that understand that it is our duty to always seek that path, for it is true that violence begets violence. It is also true that the meek are subjugated by the forceful. The truth lies somewhere in the middle and is determined by each of us what we can and are willing to accept in our lives.

    The events of 9/11 scared our society in ways that will be a long time healing. The aftermath of that and the decisions that were made will also be with us for a long time. We learned as a society that our government does not tell us the truth in all things. Perhaps we knew that on a subconcious level, however, I think most of us believed differently in our hearts. The unfortunate reality is that governments lie to each other and to thier people. This belies the concept of an open society and in and of itself creates conflict and dessention. This falls into a differnt catagory from non-disclosure, which is what is required to maintain secrets. Our government lied to us. Both sides not just the Administration. No, perhaps not every member knew of the lies, however they did not ferret out the lies. Call it what you will the paranoia of the moment or whatever.

    The point of the article is hyper rationality and how we can as individuals and as a society come to understand the concept and adjust for it in our lives. I am reluctant to place a label on someones actions without fully understanding thier motivations. Unfortunately such acts are rarely as easy to understand. I suspect that the acts of Loughner were caused by an amalgam of circumstances and maybe hyper-rationality played in to it. Defining it may help us to understand the motivations of such people however it is unlikely in the short term to provide us with a solution. I certainly hope this is the case and that it leads us to a more peaceful society as a whole.

    From a world view of many different cultures, beliefs and societies I find it unlikely to happen for a very long time.

    Thanks for posting this Ali it gives me food for thought and another perspective on our world.

    • “I suspect that the acts of Loughner were caused by an amalgam of circumstances and maybe hyper-rationality played in to it. Defining it may help us to understand the motivations of such people however it is unlikely in the short term to provide us with a solution. “


      I think you’re absolutely right on the mark with this. I found Schneider’s take on these recent events interesting, given his expertise on assassins and paranoiacs throughout history and in many different cultures. But I also think that Schneider may be over-reaching in some cases to fit Loughner to his model, and there are some places where I disagree with Schneider’s theories. (For example, just the fact that he uses the fictional Sherlock Holmes as an example of “healthy hyper-rationality” sits uneasily with me. Holmes is a fictional character created by an author who could manufacture a fictional world in which Holmes’ hyper-rationality would consistently pay off and reach correct conclusions. Real life doesn’t work this way. My bet is there are far fewer instances of truly healthy and consistently accurate “hyper-rational” characters in the non-fictional world.)

      I do like what Schneider has to say at the end of the interview, though, which is very similar to what you say here: that in the long run, striving to define and understand even seemingly random and evil acts can help us to cope with and even prevent similar acts in the future, even if in the short term such an attitude cannot offer the kind of immediate sense of closure or psychological need for certainty that we all crave. It’s hard to keep that balance in mind, and not to jeopardize our ability to understand and prepare for tragedies in the future by pursuing vengeance or simplistic models of “evil” and “insanity” that might explain away our pain in the present.


      • I agree. TheSherlock Holmes analogy had no validity to me and seemed an attempt to come up with a comparative reference. Schneider’s bias is clear and I tend to try and look past such things and grasp more of the context of what was put out.


        • It does make me want to read Schneider’s book in its entirety, since there were some things he seemed to imply in his interview that I’d be interested in seeing him explain or expound on a bit more. Unfortunately, the book’s in German, and I’m not sure there’s any English translation available (which is not a problem for my fiancé, but does give me a bit of a stumbling block). Not to mention, my to-be-read list is long enough as it is!

  4. On a separate note, I guess I owe N.A. an apology. I did interpret his tangent about the Iraq War as an intentional attempt to bring up a polarizing issue because it had so little relevance to the actual post or the interview it was about, and it appeared among other tangents that seemed pretty clearly to be veiled personal attacks against my right to call myself “Pagan.” But since several others of you have also brought it up, I’m wondering now if he just completely misunderstood or failed to get the point of the example. He might have just made an honest mistake, that others are now repeating if they didn’t read the original article carefully.

    So here’s my clarification:

    As far as I can see, I made absolutely no statement about the war that could be considered even remotely controversial. Schneider used Powell’s justifications for the Iraq War as an example of healthy, appropriate use of hyper-rationality – an argument that I agree with, as far as it goes. My mention of disingenuous and manufactured motives provided by the administration in the run-up to the war are not only well known by now, but documented by the U.S. government itself in a four-year-long, bi-partisan committee-led internal investigation, with the conclusions of the committee freely available online for the past several years. I used this example to illustrate a point that Schneider himself makes later: that simply because a community agrees on the proper, healthy use of hyper-rationality does not guarantee that their conclusions will be correct, and so we cannot assume that majority consensus is the final arbiter of the reality v. delusion debate. I brought up the protests of the those who dissented from the war from the beginning to illustrate the fact that, even at the time, the national community was far from unanimous in its certainty about the justifications for war.

    These are all pretty straight forward statements of fact about the Iraq War, its lead-up and aftermath. The point of the example was not to berate people for being for or against the war, but to point out patterns of behavior in society and their implications and impact. In this case, Schneider uses the Iraq War as an example of hyper-rationality being used by sane, grounded individuals (in contrast to his other example of a woman previously diagnosed with schizophrenia using very similar reasoning). That in this instance the sane, grounded use of hyper-rationality still led to wrong conclusions just complicates the issue.

    So when N.A. totally ignored all of these concepts and decided, instead, to go on the defensive against an imagined argument that doesn’t actually appear in the article – I jumped to the conclusion that he was intentionally trying to pick a fight. Kind of like if you ask someone if this shirt and these pants match, and they start ranting at you about how everyone who wears the color purple is a whore. It seems so completely out of context and volatile that it’s easy to interpret the non sequitur as an excuse to make personal attacks and vent hostility, or push a personal agenda that’s only just barely related to the actual discussion. But maybe N.A. just honestly didn’t understand the larger context of the reference to the Iraq War and was responding based on what he assumed I’d meant, instead. If that’s the case, I do have to apologize for jumping to the wrong conclusion.


    • I’m really not sure what to say to that, Ali. After speaking so much against personal attacks, trolling, and posting the comments policy, the above statement and how it is phrased seems less an apology, and more like a retreating attack.

      In regards to Powell and the War, I was not trying to defend the war per se, but rather offer what is known as an Alternative Interpretation. I’m still not sure how my comments were a non-sequiter, but even if they were, I hardly see how they were analogous to me being a person who tells other people that wearing purple makes them a whore. Your saying that people are making the same mistake I did because “we didn’t read the article right” seems, well, odd. Part of civil discourse is about coming together and discussing the different views we have about things. To me, there is no “right way” to read a document, because each person brings their own past to that and see it through that lenses. Its by combining these views that we can gain greater understanding.

      As for you own statements not being controversial, the argument can be made that any comment on the war is controversial. The war is a very personal issue, with as many view points as there are people involved. You may feel that your comments are above being controversial, for reasons I find beyond me. That may be my own failing. I feel there is no such thing as a straightforward view of the war.

      Reading your apology, I found myself feeling almost as attacked as you claim to have felt by my words. Perhaps you are merely suggesting things I should look into about myself as I was suggesting people ask themselves. You are a proclaimed pacifist, and perhaps it is the nature of my own path that is making your words seem an attack against me, when such things seem outside the nature of pacifism. I apologize if this is the case.

      • “[T]he argument can be made that any comment on the [Iraq] war is controversial.”

        I would tend to agree with this, in that any such comment can spark a heartfelt disagreement. (As someone who believed Colin Powell at the time, I have little sympathy for either those who are wise today out of 20-20 hindsight or who, at the time, clearly were knee-jerk, Vietnam-boilerplate opponents of any foreign war and are now in the proud position of the stopped clock that’s right twice a day.)

        More generally, we can’t condemn a comment for being controversial. Civility in comments is about the way a controversy is expressed.

        • ” I have little sympathy for either those who are wise today out of 20-20 hindsight or who, at the time, clearly were knee-jerk, Vietnam-boilerplate opponents of any foreign war and are now in the proud position of the stopped clock that’s right twice a day.”


          And I would totally understand your view… if those were the only two options. But they weren’t, and aren’t.

          As the Congressional report outlines, and as we’ve known for several years now, there were plenty of people worldwide – including people in the Intelligence Community itself – who raised legitimate doubts specifically pertaining to the likely after-effects of a war in Iraq. If I remember right, even Dick Cheney himself only a year or two before the beginning of the war had said that a war in Iraq would be a long and difficult one likely to stir up further resistance and anti-American sentiments in the Middle East.

          This wasn’t a matter of people having a knee-jerk reaction against all foreign wars everywhere (there were folks who fully supported the Afghanistan War, for instance, who objected to the Iraq War). Sure, some people might have been like that broken clock, but that was far from the only reason brought up against the war. If anything, most of the people I knew protesting the war were resisting what they saw as a knee-jerk reaction towards vengeance and preemptive aggression which was over-eager to ignore the lessons of history and our own long-term memory.

          It’s easy to try to shuffle anti-war protestors into one of those two categories…. And like I said, I understand why you might want to see things that way, but I also know from personal experience, as well as what’s since been demonstrated through investigation into the matter, that it just isn’t true.


      • N.A.,

        I think we’re just talking past each other, then, and I’m sorry for that. I’m not sure how statement of facts can be considered controversial. Even if we disagree on the ultimate benefit or detriment of the war, nothing I said is controversial in the sense of being opinions that warrant disagreement. I could just as easily have been in favor of the war, and still acknowledge the facts as they now stand. So I’m not sure why factual statements are offensive or controversial, though I’m sorry you’re feeling attacked.

        In a last attempt to get us back on the same page and talking about the same thing, can I ask you a straight-forward question? What is your opinion about the role of hyper-rationality in political discourse? Do you agree with Schneider in his assessment that hyper-rationality can function in either sane or insane, healthy or unhealthy ways, or do you disagree? If you think the Iraq War is too controversial an example, is there some other example you’d rather talk about, one that is more distant in time or place, where we can discuss the actual merits of Schneider’s theory without getting side-tracked by partisan polemic?

        (Schneider brings up a couple others in his interview, but at least one of them was a very direct comment about the negative use of hyper-rationality by the conservative Right in this country, and I didn’t want to mention it because I thought it might be too offensive to some readers. Which…. now seems kinda ironic. :) But it does sadden me if there are topics so inherently controversial that we can’t ever have an intelligent conversation about them. I don’t think that speaks very well of us as a culture if we can’t find the distance and perspective to be able to discuss our own mistakes.)


        • Ali, let me try to work this through.

          I can see how you can see “Facts” as not being “controversial.” However, in my own experience, it is not as clear cut. Often, the “facts” we have may be “incorrect,” just as “truth” is often subjective.

          An example: Fact; We in the west use “Arabic Numerals.” Fact; These Numerals were introduced to Europe from trade with Arabs. Fact; These “Arabic” Numerals actually originated in India. Fact; “Arabic Numerals” are actually “Indian Numerals.”

          All of the above are actual Facts. Yet, they are in many ways controversial, not the least of which is that they take the “accomplishment” of one people and give it to another. There are those that would dispute the above facts, insisting they were false.

          In a closer example relating to Powell. Fact; No WMDs were found. Fact; Powell said there were (based on intelligence reports). But here is where it gets controversial. In my reading of your words, you hold it as a fact that Powell “lied” to the American people in order to invoke this Hyper-reality towards Iraq, etc. (Correct me if I’m wrong). My posited is that it is possible Powell could have been misinformed, either due to a failure of intelligence networks or spoke based on the assumption that since WMDs had been used by Saddam before, he still had some. Now, I viewed my theory as just that, a theory and commentary. I cannot prove it as fact.

          Now, fact or not, I take it you view your facts as the truth. This is good and natural. However, where we run into problems is the fact that “truth” is as much subjective as objective. From a certain point of view, Vader killed Luke’s father. This is a truth. It is even a fact. But it is not the sum total. The problems we’ve run into (not just between you and me, but between lots of people all over the place) is that we have Facts, that we interpret into Truths.

          Another Example: The Religious Right looks at the facts of teen sex, divorce rates, etc and that Christianity is loosing its commanding presence in America and conclude that the Truth must be that these things are on the rise because of that lose of Christian Morals. They have facts, and with these facts have concluded a Truth. And it is a Truth. I look at the facts of teen sex, divorce rates, etc and at history and conclude that Teens have always been teens, Divorce rates were actually higher in the past than we’d think (though not as high as currently) and that the reasons behind this shift relate to a complicated mix of Christianity weakening, the Post-Cold War era where people no longer fear instant death by nukes, ect and have created my Truth.

          Now, We have two different Truths, based on the same facts, and both are in fact True. I know I’m running another tangent, but please bear with me for a moment longer.

          Ali, what we have here is that you have a Truth, and I have a Truth (though I haven’t put out my truth, only theories to test a Truth) and both our Truths are True. Yet we have so long lived in a world where there can be only “One Truth” that people can’t accept that there are multiple truths. The Republicans have to be wrong. The Democrats have to be wrong. The Right has to be wrong. The Left has to be wrong.

          What I posit is that both are in fact right, from a certain point of view. That both sides have the same Facts and draw from these Facts Truths. That theses Truths are in fact True.

          Now, this may be wrong. But for the sake of working together, we work as if it is True. Because on a larger scale, as Pagans, we have to embrace that idea. The Olympians are Right. the Asgardians are Right, the Celts are right. If we spent less time screaming about how the other side is wrong, we could find where the other is correct, and build from that.

          What I was attempting to do in my first comment was to both cause question with your Truth, but also aid in finding the correctness of your Truth. I never denied Powell was wrong about WMDs, but merely with that you stated he lied as Fact/Truth.

          Facts are often less clear than we would like to admit. Truth is more encompassing than we might believe. We have to look beyond Facts and Truths, to what lies below, behind, and above. Good and Evil, Right and Wrong, these are things we have used too long to separate. We need to move beyond them, and come together.

          • N.A.,

            You wrote: “In a closer example relating to Powell. Fact; No WMDs were found. Fact; Powell said there were (based on intelligence reports). But here is where it gets controversial. In my reading of your words, you hold it as a fact that Powell “lied” to the American people in order to invoke this Hyper-reality towards Iraq, etc. (Correct me if I’m wrong).”

            You’re wrong, in several places, in even these few sentences (including the very use of the term that’s under discussion, which is hyper-rationality, not “Hyper-reality”). I also nowhere said or even implied that Powell “lied”; in fact, the example of the Iraq War was used to illustrate just the opposite by both Schneider and myself.

            So I’m not spending any more time on this. If you still have questions, please reread the post, read the interview if you haven’t yet. Or don’t. It is not my job as a writer to force you as the reader to give your time or effort if you’re unwilling to do so. If you cannot bother to even inform yourself about what I have already stated, or even get the names of the theories right, I don’t see the point in trying to continue the conversation.


  5. I keep coming back to this, but I can’t seem to find the right way of articulating what I mean, so I’m going to throw this out there: The 9/11 hijackers were completely rational and made logical strategic decisions, given where they were starting from. Their actions were not insane, nor ‘hyper-rational’, nor mere chance, nor unpredictable. They were approaching their situation as a war (regardless of if the US thought of it as such), and their use of guerilla warfare against a larger, better provisioned, better trained, better armed, more numerous opponent was completely rational. Honestly, I’m incredibly surprised that they did not have a plan for a second or third wave of attacks of similar size and scope (but different methodology, obviously) within a few days or weeks of the initial attacks (such as blowing up an oil tanker in the Port of LA, for example).

    Consider, if you will, one of the classic opening moves of chess: placing a single pawn within reach of your opponent, to draw their strength in until you can drain it away in a battle of attrition. Alternately, setting up a series of moves, each one individually innocuous, but allowing for at a certain critical time, the destruction of a large portion of an enemy’s strength (or will to fight, which in the long run is far more important, and in that they made a large mistake in their estimations of America I believe). Their actions, from their point of view, made sense.

    And after reading the rest of the article, I find myself wondering what kind of background Herr Schneider has in regards to psychology or sociology.