Wednesday, November 26, 2008

History Management and Franchise Protection

President Bush’s depiction of the past is sanitized, selective, and self-serving where not simply false. 

Andrew Bacevich intelligently applies Niebuhr* to the Bush benightenment:

 Since the end of the Cold War, the management of history has emerged as the all but explicitly stated purpose of American statecraft. 

Much has been made of the allegedly Bible-driven subtext peering through Bush's melodramatic horseshit, e.g:

When our founders declared a new order of the ages, when soldiers died in wave upon wave for a union based on liberty; when citizens marched in peaceful outrage under the banner of 'Freedom Now'--they were acting on an ancient hope that is meant to be fulfilled. History has an ebb and flow of justice, but history also has a visible direction, set by liberty and the Author of liberty.
It's important to be clear that in critique, Bush's reading of the Bible -- if indeed that's what he (viz his handlers) were doing -- gets filtered through someone else's reading of that reading, simultaneously triangulating with their own reading of the good book.

What sort of tugs at that reduction of Bush and his "base" to mere Christian barbarism is that there may be another sort of contest built in that should not be ignored.

For example, in The Discoverers, Daniel J. Boorstin talks about how the Chinese, who early on were so advanced in optics, glassmaking, camera obscura boxes etc. were dismal in astronomy.

It seems astronomy was sort of the stem cell technology of the age. A 17th century visitor, Father Matteo Ricci, noted that the Chinese had "seen" more stars than their semblables in the West, but had failed to make any scientific sense out of them. Ricci wrote in 1605: 

...the Chinese astronomers take no pains whatever so reduce the phenomena of celestial bodies to the discipline of mathematics. . . .  they center their whole attention on that phase of astronomy which our scientists term astrology, which may be accounted for by the fact that they believe that everything happening on this terrestrial globe of ours depends upon the stars. . . . The founder of the family which at present regulates the study of astrology prohibited anyone from indulging in the study of this science unless he were chosen for it by hereditary right. The prohibition was founded upon fear, lest he who should acquire a knowledge of the stars might become capable of disrupting the order of the empire and seek and opportunity to do so.

Surely the family patriarch was also concerned to protect his franchise. Local intellectual property and monopoly rights management are always present in these thickets. My point simply is that the underlying issue really was more complex than the bare opposition of supernatural authority to natural intellect -- these hotbutton matters were in a knot whose threads included tradition, mafia power, trust, underlying cultural disposition, protection racketeering and realpolitick concerns that the sacred tools of history management (e.g., the calendar) be protected from interlopers. This much seems relevant to what's at stake in the cultural divide from which Bush and now Palin have derived both energetic support and potent opposition. 

*h/t to Informant

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