The vanity of public men

By Lex

Posted on August 15, 2006


Success in a particular field of endeavor does not, sadly, translate to success in all fields. When I was a nobbut, experienced civil aviators of my acquaintance often called the Bonanza V-35B the “doctor killer,” since it was an expensive, high performance, slippery aircraft which demanded precision, especially during adverse weather. Weather for which certain of the wealthy, master-of-the-universe-type physicians who often purchased them declined to adequately prepare.

One need only cast one’s eyes to Hollywood, where people whose winnings in the genetic lottery were spent almost entirely upon appearances end up infatuated by a received sense of self-importance. They read something in a magazine one day and feel suddenly empowered to speak as experts on Tibet, feel the need to speak Truth to Power on the topics of Race and Courage during Academy Award speeches. But even then such people, whose CV’s often list universities that they “attended” (if they list them at all) most often without remarking upon the degrees received upon “graduation.” They often seem to us a mere handful of brain cells away from consignment to assisted living communities, yet we forgive them: They are so damned cute.

Brighter men than these have made similar mistakes. Noam Chomsky, a brilliant theoretical linguist, has often mistaken himself for an informed political commentator, albeit one whose contributions to the public debate are largely restricted to advancing utterly exploded theories on the benefits of world-wide socialism – just give it one more chance! – when not engaging in wild-eyed conspiracy theorizing.

Finally George Soros, billionaire financier and profligate supporter of losing presidential candidates, feels compelled to once again box above his weight in the Wall Street Journal today, in his (behind the wall) op-ed on “A Self-Defeating War.”

A “false metaphor” is how he describes the Global War on Terror, and a misleading one that has resulted in the explosions we have seen in Iraq, Gaza, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Somalia. Of course, he begs the question of whether those explosions are more or less to be lamented than the ones suffered at the World Trade Center in 1993, and reprised in 2001. Gaza was apparently just fine under Israeli occupation, as was Lebanon under the Syrians, Afghanistan under the Taliban and Somalia under whichever war lord owned the local zip code that week. Tyranny, terror and death are all very acceptable, so long as they happen off the stage, away from US media interest.

National self-loathing aside, Soros has four main points:

1) Soros has discovered – uniquely – that war creates victims. Innocent victims! This recent innovation apparently has the result of increasing terrorism, being thereby self-defeating. Hence the catchy title! It’s a tricky bit of chicken-and-eggery to claim that you create terror by fighting it, but that appears to be the financier’s considered political opinion. And while he’s keen to catalogue real or imagined offenses of the US in the world – all of which appear to have occurred since January of 2001 – he’s very short on recommendations.

2) He goes on to say that terrorism is an abstraction, which fact may come as something of a surprise those recuperating in Israeli hospitals, mourning the five-years memory of their dead in less than a month, or thanking God (and Scotland Yard) for their deliverance from airborne explosions. These people tend to see terror as rather concrete and tangible, but never mind all that: The important thing is George Bush’s simple-minded refusal to draw distinctions between Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Sunni rejectionists and the fat boy’s Mehdi army. Such distinctions are apparently important if, as Soros posits, one wants to negotiate with Iran and Syria. Who, it might be churlish to point out, are really only interested in negotiating the size of our coffins, as well as the attendant “use by” date.

3) Soros points out that “the war on terror emphasizes military action while most territorial conflicts require political solutions.” True, but also too clever by half. We’re interested in the ongoing struggle between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam over in Sri Lanka, and that’s a territorial conflict. On the other hand, we’re fascinated by “global” terrorism, one that knows no boundaries and respects no nationality – not even its own. International terrorism, one is tempted to remind, is what President Bush declared his antipathy too, all those years ago.

Soros goes on to say that recent British terror in the air plot was uncovered by good intelligence, offering that as an alternative to our kinetic clearing of the terror fields, root and branch. Given that the British government, which otherwise shares many of our legal traditions, has a much more intrusive array of investigative techniques at their disposal as a legacy of their long, dark struggles against the Provisional IRA, would Mr. Soros recommend that we adopt similar measures? One suspects not, and Mr. Soros does not say.

4) Us and them, he laments. We drive a wedge between those who cut people’s throats on the internet, and those who fight to stop them. Wedge away, says I, and enough of this bullshit moral equivalency.

Soros has, as have all too many others, tailored his outrage to suit his politics before declaring, based on the strength of the foregoing that the war on terror “cannot be won.” Well, it certainly could not be won by him. But then again, neither could the 2004 presidential election.

He concludes his essay by saying that the “strength of an open society lies in its ability to recognize and correct its mistakes.”

So also might one judge the strength of an open mind, a useful notion for Mr. Soros to reflect upon.

Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,

Nor public men, nor cheering crowds.

A lonely impulse of delight,

Drove to this tumult in the clouds.

– A fragment, from W.B. Yeats’ “An Irish Airman forsees his death


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Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, by lex, Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Carroll LeFon, Hollywood, Politics and Culture

2 responses to “The vanity of public men

  1. Thomas Taylor

    I wonder what Lex would of thought of Donald Trump?

    • Bill Brandt

      Interesting question! Although my take is that most politicians are vain.

      As one cynic said, “politics is show business for ugly people“.

      I won’t go so far is to say that all politicians are ugly but most of them do run for the camera when they see it.

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