Our Civilisational Quagmire – Looking Truth in the Eye

This coming U.S. election is viewed by both Red and Blue as existential. Perhaps the most portent in America’s history.

First, the bottom line: If you don’t solve the biology, the economy won’t recover. That is where we are now. A sealed-off, ‘exceptionalist’ mindset has brought about – surprise; surprise – an exceptionalist outcome. We have both a deluge of avoidable deaths, and clearly, a staggering amount of possibly avoidable economic damage (albeit some of which was destined to occur soon, anyway).

It is the worst of both worlds. Initially, dilatory in mitigating the pandemic for fear of damaging the economy, political leaders (particularly the in the Anglo-sphere) have implemented (half) measures late (once the virus brush-fire had already got a grip on dry tinder) and now are panicked at the soaring costs associated with their initial errors – and so are pushing to try to ‘open’ as early as they dare.

But the biology is not solved, and the tension of trying to point in opposite directions simultaneously is igniting a separate, raging political brushfire.

In the American war between ‘Blue and Red’, some states are enforcing a return to work (threatening harsh penalties on absentees), while others are mandating exactly the opposite: compulsory ‘stay at home’ orders. This absurdity reaches a peak, as one example, in the small American town of Bristol, half of which lies in Tennessee and the other in Virginia, where the two states abut each other. One half of its citizens are ‘bustling’ in an opened economy, and the others are hibernating in lockdown. No wonder people are losing confidence in the wisdom of their leaders.

Now ‘the other shoe’ has dropped – political war. ‘Half patriots’ see ‘Blue’ deliberately keeping the economy in lockdown – to damage Red’s November prospects. But also, they view the Coronavirus as a synthetic globalist agenda contrived, and exaggerated, in order to steal away the peoples’ liberties. And into this fetid brew, the Blue candidate presumptive, and the former U.S. President, inter alia, are explicitly being ‘dropped’, unmasked as ‘Half Traitors’ (for their role in Obamagate).

And, as domestic tempers flare, sealed-bubble thinking requires there to be diversions – with foreigners to blame – lest the Blues begin to score politically, by pointing at the late Trump Administration response to the Covid-19 crisis.

So relations with China are condemned to drop off a cliff. Pending are the Uyghur Human Rights Act, and the Covid-19 Accountability Act – both awaiting passage into law. The latter, if passed, would allow Trump sixty days to certify that China has fully accounted to an independent body, such as the UN, for the circumstances in which the virus arose; has closed all its highest-risk wet markets; and has released all Hong Kong ‘democracy activists’, recently arrested.

Failure to do so, would authorize Trump to impose sanctions such as an asset freeze, travel bans, visa revocations, and to restrict Chinese businesses’ access to the U.S. banking system and capital markets. But neither of these two acts – inflammatory though they be – are as incendiary as Washington’s slow ‘walk-back’ of its commitment to a ‘One China’ stance in respect to Taiwan. This is ‘the’ red line. China is already angry, and may not ‘bend to accommodate the U.S. wind’, for much longer.

That is not the end to it, however. Times are uncertain. The American public mood is fickle. So the further tools to ensure success in November require Trump to show that he is the better ‘friend to Israel’ than was Obama (by allowing (even encouraging) annexation of much of the West Bank); and that he is just as tough on Russia as was Obama: “My job is to make [Syria] a quagmire for the Russians”, U.S. Envoy, James Jeffries, explained last week. Similarly, it requires making Iraq a quagmire for Iran (thus, undoing Obama’s mistake of leaving Iraq ‘too soon’) – and to go with ‘snap-back’ UNSC sanctions on Iran (so Brian Hook says), so that Iran may hurt so badly that it will be desperate to accede to a new nuclear accord – one, much better, than was Obama’s.

Well, all in all, isn’t this a recipé for turmoil, push back and further economic anemia (as global economic roots are hauled out from their soil, and tugged apart)? Yes – clearly. This coming U.S. election is viewed by both Red and Blue as existential. Perhaps the most portent in America’s history.

Are all these threats ‘real’? Probably not – but China blamed for the virus, and pushed over the cliff edge; and the West Bank and Jordan Valley annexation are. Both play to U.S. domestic electoral interests.

Yet, Israeli commentator Gideon Levy in Haaretz, writing about Israeli annexation of Palestinian lands, positions all these such seemingly dark events, in a very different light: Isn’t Annexation – albeit “an outrageous punishment for the occupied” – nonetheless somehow something that “would also put an end to the lies, and require everyone to look the truth straight in the eye. And the truth is that the occupation is here to stay, there were never any intentions to do otherwise”. Annexation, Levy writes, “is shaping up as the only way out of the deadlock, the only possible shake­­-up that could end this status quo of despair, we’ve gotten stuck in, which can no longer lead anywhere good.”

“It’s precisely the sworn opponent of annexation, Shaul Arieli, who has best described its advantages”, Levy opines counter-intuitively. “In a recent article (Haaretz, Hebrew edition, April 24), Arieli noted how the Palestinian Authority would collapse; the Oslo Accords would be cancelled; Israel’s image would sustain damage, and another cycle of bloodshed would be liable to erupt. These are real dangers that you cannot take lightly; but he [Arieli] says: “The step of annexation would deal a great blow to the balancing points in the current situation, and upset their fragile equilibrium””.

Let Israel annex. Expose the sham peace process. That process “has already created an irreversible situation … for, without the [settlers’] removal [and that will never happen], the Palestinians will be left with nothing but Bantustans: Neither a state nor even a joke of a state”, Levy writes. “Better to look truth in the eye”.

Yet, isn’t this what precisely – in its separate way – the Coronavirus is doing, in respect to wider geo-politics – by cascading diverse fragilities, and upsetting brittle equilibriums, such as that of the European Union?

Coronavirus is, as it were, becoming the ‘Annexation pivot’ for global politics. America’s “outrageous punishments” inflicted on Palestinians, on Syria, on Iran, on Russia, on China … etc? Isn’t this ‘it’? The same as argued by Levy, albeit in an annexation context?

The pretence that the U.S. and the global economy is about to snap back, as soon as virus mitigation is lifted; the pretence that Covid-19 is either a fake (just another ‘flu); or, is ‘over’; the pretence that U.S. and Europe have competent and resilient political and economic structures – and the pretence that once Covid is over, we will all return to a world, just as it was?

Gideon Levy suggests, “we have to stop fearing it [Annexation]”. No, it is both – Annexation and the Coronavirus. And even say ‘yes’ to them. Probability strategist Nassim Taleb thinks similarly: Coronavirus is an opportunity. “Do a total reset professionally, economically, and personally. Treat this thing as if it were here to stay, and make sure you can do with it”.

These are shaping up as the only way out of our multiple deadlocks. But they do, however, impose on us the need to be able to look Truth straight in the eye. And our processes of thinking have been so long cooked in the intellectual oven of rationalism, that the stuff of them has dried hard; lost savour, life, and truth, and has become little more than yet another dish of egotism.

Carl Jung tells the story of the ‘golden scarab’. It is the story of a young woman patient who was proving to be psychologically inaccessible. The analytical process had become obstructed by what Jung describes as a state of psychic one-sidedness that manifested in the form of a domineering rationality. Always she knew better. “Her education had provided her with a weapon ideally suited to this purpose, namely a highly-polished, Cartesian rationalism”. When Jung’s attempts to sweeten her rationalism proved unproductive, Jung was left hoping “that something unexpected and irrational would turn up, something that would burst the intellectual retort into which she had sealed herself”.

“I was sitting opposite her one day” Jung wrote, “with my back to the window… She had dreamed the night before that someone had given her a golden scarab, a costly piece of jewellery. But while she was telling me this dream, I heard something tapping on the window… an insect… it was a scarabaeid beetle, whose gold-green colour resembled gold… I handed the beetle to my patient with the words: ‘Here is your scarab’”.

Jung relates that, with the shock of extraneous sudden intrusion from nowhere, “her natural being could burst through the armour [of her sealed rationality, and] transformation could, at last, begin”.

Not just Jung’s patients, but civilisations too, become stuck in their particular intellectual retort. When Aristophanes’ The Frogs was performed at the Great Dionysia in 405 BC, it was already evident to all that Athenian civilisation was degenerate. The Frogs, for all its knock-about comedy, is sombre in reflection upon Athens’ bleak future. Its theme was that since all the three great Athenian poets were then dead, the sole remedy for saving Athens was to send Dionysius down to the underworld to bring back with him the greatest of these poets. But when Dionysius duly arrived there, the ‘shade of Euripides’ asks of him, for what purpose would he want to bring back a poet?

Dionysius instantly retorts, “to save Athens, of course”.

Why? Because the most important role of these playwrights was always to challenge, and expose, the false myths by which we all live. To burst the bubble – and to offer an understanding of our suffering and human experience – in such a way as to make it not only intelligible, but also – in reaching down to deeper layers of accumulated human experience held in the psyche – allow us to imagine the ‘impossible’ as solution.

With Euripides, unfortunately, still inhabiting the otherworld, we must rely on the less amiable Coronavirus to shock, and frighten us out from our intellectual retort – and to make the alchemical marriage (i.e. make whole) the severed parts to our over-cooked psyches.

Our Civilisational Quagmire – Looking Truth in the Eye

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