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Saturday, March 1, 2003

From a recent visitor to UC Berkeley: The Fatuity and Intellectual Idiocy of Anti-War Protestors

From Michael Jabbra, who recently graduated from UCSB, where he was a top-notch, powerfully motivated student . . . who, among other things, learned in the course of his four years of study how to shape a rigorous and well thought-out argument --- something, he says, totally absent in the sloganeering and mindless raucous cat-calling that pass for brainy grist in the anti-war crowd always on display in Berkeley, whose campus he just visited. His email message about his jaunt there appears at the end here. Meanwhile, here's Prof Bug's reply.

Well, Michael: you're right. And you have to understand why. Leave aside the middle-of-the road person who's confused about the Iraqi problem. Most people are confused and not well-informed, on either side of the debate --- not just in the protest movements. Most of the vocal leaders and avant-garde fist-shakers in those movements, to be more explicit, couldn't tell you what the population of Iraq is, its ethnic breakdown, the nature of the Baath Party that rules, Saddam's background or why he has spent over $100 billion for decades now on his weapons of mass destruction, even at the cost of tremendous economic suffering for his nation as a result of 12 years of tough sanctions. Nor do they how to make sense of Jerrold Post's informed book, based on his years as a CIA analyst specializing in psychological profiling of dictators, especially Saddam Hussein himself.
Post, who is a psychiatrist and now head of the program of political psychology at George Washington University after his retirement from the CIA, almost certainly knows Saddam Hussein better than any westerner. Based on his intensive, years' long study of Saddam's personality and background all the way from infancy to the present, Post said this about the man who has single-mindedly pursued his weapons program, all in the service of his megalomanical ambitions to go down in history as the greatest statesman since Mohammed --- he has, needless to say, a limited orbit of reference --- and make Islam the center of the world again (which it never was anyway, not that he likely cares about facts):

" . . . Saddam's rise to the top through coups, intrigue and assassination have convinced him he has inherited the same myth-laden mantle of leadership - and that belief has deepened with every layer of sycophantic, frightened followers who have gathered around him. It has produced that most dangerous political personality - malignant narcissism," Post says. This particular brand of personality disorder exhibits itself in an extreme lack of empathy for others, paranoia, the absence of conscience and a readiness to use violence to achieve goals. Post believes Bin Laden is suffering from the same malady.

"This does not mean that either man is "crazy". Rather, both act with a cool rationality which is primarily limited by the yes-men around them. In his profile of Saddam, Post argues: "While he is psychologically in touch with reality, he is often politically out of touch with reality. Consequently, Saddam was caught by surprise when virtually the entire planet united against Iraq after his invasion of Kuwait in 1990. It also helps explain why he thought his army could hold back the coalition forces.

"Post predicts that faced with the threat of UN inspections, Saddam will try to repeat the evasions and subterfuge of the past decade in an attempt to avoid a war. "He is not a martyr. He is a quintessential survivor," the psychiatrist insists. But on the other hand, he will never give up his arsenal of mass destruction, which Post says are essential to his self-image as a world-class leader. "Big boys have big toys," as he puts it. "Without the weapons, he's nothing."

"Threatened with extinction, Post predicts Saddam will probably both set fire to the Iraqi oilfields, as he did in Kuwait 11 years ago, and order the use of chemical and biological weapons against the invading troops and against Israel."
From an Interview in the Guardian


Less psychologically oriented, the brilliant investigative journalism carried out by Jeffrey Goldberg in Iraq last year, a very dangerous undertaking that went on for several months, arrived at roughly the same portrait of Saddam --- only documenting much more thoroughly his utter brutality and mass-murdering cruelty in the Kurdish areas . . . where several hundred thousand perished as a result of his biological and chemical attacks on their villages, followed by ethnic cleansing and extermination by special corps of homicidal Republican Guards and his Arab SS Palace Thugs. See Jeffrey Goldberg, The Great Terror

Then, a month or so later, the Atlantic Monthly ran another glittering piece of lengthy investigative journalism, likewise based on months of on-the-ground interviewing of a dangerous sort in Iraq, by Mark Bowden, the author of the renown Black Hawk Down. Entitled "Tales of the Tyrant", the article set out a portrait of Saddam's personality and overwrought grandiose ambitions linked to his WMD programs and his utter indifference to the suffering of others that he has caused in the past, or would easily do so in the future . . . all obstacles of a malignant and vicious sort to be destroyed if they stand in the way of his manic strivings for fame and immortality. At one point Bowden cites how much Saddam is looking for a showdown:

"Today is a day in the Grand Battle, the immortal Mother of All Battles. It is a glorious and a splendid day on the part of the self-respecting people of Iraq and their history, and it is the beginning of the great shame for those who ignited its fire on the other part. It is the first day on which the vast military phase of that battle started. Or rather, it is the first day of that battle, since Allah decreed that the Mother of All Battles continue till this day".—Saddam Hussein, in a televised address to the Iraqi people, January 17, 2002


And finally -- to return to the uncoiled hot-headed protestors at Berkeley that Michael witnessed first hand --- it's a safe bet that 95% of them haven't bothered to read Threatening Storm, the lengthy, heavily documented book on why war with Iraq is essential to topple Saddam by another former CIA specialist --- Kenneth Pollack, who has specialized on the Iraqi leadership and military for two decades in the CIA, then served as Bill Clinton's chief adviser in that capacity onthe National Security Council in the late 1990s. Pollack's argument for an invasion is all the more convincing because he makes clear that for years he believed Saddam could be contained and deterred. His further studies when he served on the NSC led him, reluctantly he insists, to the belief that he was wrong: Saddam has an "unconscious death wish", a suicidal thrust that will lead to some Armageddon-like use of his WMD in the maniacal pursuit of his raw searing ambitions.

So yes, Michael -- whose letter is below -- is no doubt right. In the angry avant-garde of the war protestors --- not the confused, understandably war-averse sympathizers who are generally ordinary and concerned citizens, however ill-informed --- we encounter furious slogans and wild-eyed gestures and eruptive, nearly out-of-control efforts to shout down any opponents: in short, fatuity and fury full of projected snarled frustrations seething in the murky inner chambers of their mind, and little else . . . little in the way of intellectually solid argument anyway. It's utterly alien to their tartuffian, rigidly canting frame of mind. Might just as well try to convince a pack of witch-hunters that they're not just swept up in paranoid fantasies, but projecting onto others their own unacknowledged malice and seething vitriol.

The interesting thing really is why: why, assuming most of the protestors are students (at Berkeley, a slightly risky assumption given that the Bay Area's sociopaths and alienated beady-eyed drugsters and emotionally scarred drop-outs will quickly converge there on almost any pretext for venting their high-pulsating resentments and frustrations, along with a chance for some good drugs and maybe sex) . . . why are these students, undergrad and grads alike, so cockily self-righteous and simultaneously devoid of convincing knowledge and arguments? Again, to clarify, we're talking about the vocally raucous hard-core, 95% of whom wouldn't know Jerrold Post from a lamp-post, or Kenneth Pollack from a Polish-joke, or Jeffrey Goldberg from a TV show of the 1950s with Molly Goldberg. And what's more, in their jagged hyped-up mood of self-righteousness --- a raw, raging conviction that reflects mainly hatred of others, nicely disguised in its projected form of high-sounded ideals and utopian vacuity --- they probably couldn't care less about their actual motives and the wretched gaps and frailty of their knowledge.

The short, down-to-earth answer to the above question that I'll flesh out one day: they've encountered in their earlier education in junior and senior high school and ever since entering Berkeley little or no intellectual discourse that runs counter to their primal, pulpit-pounding pieties: a dislike of American capitalism that spills over into rippling hatred at the extreme; raw alienation from middle class life and its restraints; a iron-clad conviction that American politics is rotten to the core (save when Bill Clinton now and then appointed a politically correct minority person to this or that office); an equally ignorant, ill-founded conviction that American foreign policy is imperialist and malign; a related belief that all Republicans are racists and all Republican women fascist-like dupes; and somewhere in all this various sky-hooting fantasies of a world in which brotherly and sisterly love will prevail some time soon, restraints will be gone, and they'll be able in the News Brave World to do anything they like, especially if it affords ample opportunity for lots of booze, drugs, and uncommitted sex . . . not to forget plenty of chances to take revenge on others.

They are, to put it bluntly, alienated and full of rippling half-conscious anger and resentment, inclined compulsively to vent all their hostility and related frustration --- so why worry about intellectual arguments of any solid sort? Especially since their professors and their teachers earlier, sometimes back to early primary school, never seemed to offer much in the way of well-founded opposition to their views, and they have become convinced over time, thanks to endless reinforcement, that anyone who differs is a person of malice to be dealt with severely --- vengefully --- in the future when power has shifted. In the meantime, by angry shakes of the fist, howled obscenities, and systematic efforts to drive off campus any invited speakers to the right of Al Gore --- a practice tolerated by administrators, much to the dismay of those of us who take free speech seriously --- and, in repeated instances, not least at Berkeley, to crash into campus newspaper offices and destroy any editions whose opinions don't match theirs . . . another extremist and illegal activity further tolerated by administrators, again not least at Berkeley. To say nothing about efforts, either tolerated by similarly ideologically alienated professors (when not encouraged by them), to try crashing into classes and intimidate professors whose views don't seem politically biased in the correct direction.

And if that doesn't work, there's also the possibility of invoking hate-speech codes --- thrown out almost everywhere where they've been challenged in our courts --- along with trumped up charges, and then trying to continue the witch-hunting through the use of secret tribunals and kangaroo courts . . . all affronts to our Constitutional rights, where judge, jury, prosecutor, and hangman are one and the same.

As for wider groups of students -- the confused and ill-informed and naturally averse to war (the same as the middle-class peace-protestors in downtown Santa Barbara every Saturday) --- they will eventually become solid middle class citizens and professionals who will, in the title words of the film that portrayed ex-Students for a Democratic Society gathering for a funeral of their ex-leader, encounter daily "The Big Chill" of reality: raising a family, making a living, trying to get along with spouses, the pleasures and problems of concrete day-to-day life, and the abundant opportunities for changing all of this, starting with any dead-end job or relationships-gone-sour, and in ways that have no parallel in any other society. Anywhere. With failures of any sort quickly forgotten or forgiven. In the highly regulated welfare states of West Europe, by contrast, failure at any point in life --- starting with the educational system --- is almost always failure for life, with the prospect of starting anew and recreating it, a daily common practice here, virtually non-existent.

Doc Bug:

Just got back from an entertaining trip to Berkeley to visit my sister. It's amazing what you will see in Berkeley. The campus is politically hyperactive, much more so that UC Santa Barbara.

Antiwar sentiment is a big issue there, flaring all over. Among the slogans: "Let the Capitalists Die for Capitalism", "Military Solutions are Problems", "Bush Is A Fascist", and "The Real Axis of Evil", which had a picture of Bush, Sharon, and Rumsfeld, and many more. My sister told me that the antiwar hacks had persuaded the administrators at Berkeley High School to let the kids out to join them in protesting the war. The kids didn't do any protesting; they went around vandalizing local businesses. That was just fine; capitalism is evil, right? The spinelessness of the high school district was astounding, and the reaction of the kids was predictable. It reminded me of the abortive protest at my high school when Proposition 187 (denying certain benefits to illegal immigrants) was big news. The kids rushed out of class, not so much to protest, but just to get out of class.

What also struck me was the lack of intellectual arguments from the antiwar crowd.

Wildly inflated casualty figures are bandied about. "Bush Is A Fascist" (or an imperialist, depending on who you talk to) doesn't reveal anything except the prejudices of the protester. Not one word is mentioned about the cruelty of Iraq's regime, not one word about the possibility of Saddam Hussein's government giving nasty weapons to Al-Qaeda, and not one word about how Saddam Hussein's crowd has been thumbing its nose at the vaunted international law which the antiwar crowd loves so much. The only halfway intellectual argument -- namely, what do we do afterwards with Iraq, and how do we minimize any potential for future conflict -- was not mentioned at all. Instead, there were posters about how "women of color" were being oppressed by the war on terrorism. Funny, I didn't think that Condoleeza Rice was being oppressed. Maybe someone forgot to tell her?

Replies: 2 comments

Here's a link... Wait a couple seconds and a video will load of a guy who went to some of the large peace protests of the last few weeks and interviewed some participants. Shows the true ignorance of many of these types as alluded to by the Buggy Prof.


Posted by August @ 03/02/2003 01:34 PM PST

Once when I was getting upset about some PC insanity happening in grad school, a friend told me: look, whenever a movement is losing the battle of ideas it becomes more extreme. You also see such ideas relegated to the places where they are tolerated and the people promoting them are protected, like the academy, schools, private foundations or certain governmental bodies where people are either appointed or otherwise isolated from the effects of a broad, politically-diverse electorate (federal court appointees and one party towns like San Francisco come to mind). She was right, and I felt less alone.

But even in these places people like the Buggy Professor exist. And in these crucibles, conservatives are formed. I grew up an indocrinated leftist, attending some of the highest-ranked public schools in California, where I can recall in high school being asked to write about the ways in which the US is an oligarchy. This even though we hadn't been taught anything about the US government sufficient for us to have offered any reasoned opinion on that question or any other governance question. When I went off to college at UCSC, I found my leftist politics acceptable but my values under assault. Right and wrong were relative terms, bound up in our own -isms, and moreover required the unforgivable sin of judging the beliefs of others. I simply didn't buy into such nonsense like others did who believed it made them more sophisticated and intellectual-- with the self-esteem enhancing benefit of never having to deal with the pesky issue of ever actually having to prove your sophistication or intellect by persuading anyone of the accuracy of your assertions or the reasonableness of your views. I can remember being pulled aside after class by my freshman English professor-- this was a class structured around in-class debate--who told me that my ability to argue and defend a viewpoint was intimidating classmates who were less capable of forming and defending an argument and therefore I should please not speak again in class. I still have a paper where a professor wrote that she was sorry to have to give me an A because she feared my ability to write persuasively could be used to convince others of my "dangerous ideas," which were along the lines of something that might be uttered by a centrist Democrat today. I was so turned off by all this that I felt compelled to resassess what I believed and why. That, coupled with professors like the Buggy Professor who both expect their students to think critically and give them buckets of tools to do so-- caused me to strive to make sure my views are impeccably reasoned and grounded in fact. And when I did that, I discovered that my values, which remain largely unchanged since my youth-- and are now reinforced by experience-- were not reflected in the leftist political ideology I'd been indoctrinated with and firmly believed, even though leftists often tout most of these same values in support of their political agendas. Today I'm a conservative because conservative ideas express those values most truly.

The point of relaying my experiences is to note that there are many silent, serious students at Berkeley, UCSC and UCSB who, whatever their current politics, find their more mainstream views under attack by the anti- demagogues, and as a result begin to really think about the reasoning underpinning their own beliefs and values. And when they do, I think those reasonable voices will emerge stronger than those screaming at them in protest.

Posted by JOhn @ 03/02/2003 12:52 AM PST