The Fantasy of Democracy
by Fred Reed
by Fred Reed: Sober
Thoughts on Afghanistan
are going to lynch me. Already they gather at the gate, and they
have a rope Maybe I can plea bargain down to tar and feathers. I
doubt it, though.
Some time ago
I discovered Fox News (Honest: For the preceding ten years I didnt
have TV). Fox seemed to me politically dangerous, being, as I thought
anyway, the voice of a huge, angry, and badly uninformed lower middle
class. From such, in times of economic decline, come Brown Shirts.
talking head after talking head berated Moslems, urged support for
our troops, and promoted American exceptionalism, meaning that the
United States, like a Tennessee revival preacher in 1925, had God-given
authority specifically to meddle everywhere in the world in the
name of virtue. I kept thinking: Do these people have the foggiest
idea what they are talking about?
To find out,
I wrote last
weeks column, which I filled with every political, geographic,
military, and historical error I could think of. For example:
Party doesnt exist, falafel being a snack sold on the streets
of Tel Aviv. Herat is in west-central Afghans tin, not the Federated
Tribal Territories, which dont exist.
There is no
Raptor drone, the Raptor being the F22. The Mk 48 is a naval torpedo.
Hecuba and Priam are not towns, but the queen and king of Troy in
the Iliad; Sulawesi doesnt have a border with Iran, being
an island in Indonesia.
helicopter was never built. The BQQ-6 is a sonar suite on Trident
The Al Aqsa
mosque is not in Kandahar, but in Jerusalem; Sufis are pacific mystics,
and Bukitinggi is a town in Sumatra.
Weapons and Light Armor doesnt exist. The 16-inch-54 was
the main gun on the Iowa class of battleships in WWII, and did indeed
have a heavier bullet than an AK. Bucephalus was Alexander the Greats
horse. The Peshmerga are a Kurdish militia in Iraq, Bukitinggi a
town in Sumatra.
Massoud was assassinated by enemies posing as photographers; Sala
al Din, Saladin, was a Kurdish leader fighting invading Crusaders
(who lost, the Pentagon might bear in mind) in the 12th century.
Augea was the
town with the famed and almost uncleanable Augean stables, which
Hercules nonetheless cleaned.
to the column astonished me. I had expected many readers to recognize
it as a spoof, but almost none did. A lot caught an error or two for
example, army guys knew that the Comanche was never built and
one reader noted that I had the politics of the Taliban bass-ackwards.
Far more took the column seriously.
me much to think about.
to recognize classical allusions made me realize that I am a fossil
squared. Apart from my being a bit long in the tooth myself, my
cultural heritage is that of the rural gentry of Southside Virginia.
These were people who valued polished writing, who brooked no bad
grammar, for whom a knowledge of classical literature from Homer
onward was simply assumed in civilized people. Times have changed
and people direct their attention to other things. I didnt
realize how other.
Of course nobody
can be expected to know the details of everything. If someone wrote
a similar spoof on the politics of Algeria, the intricacies of dentistry,
or the workings of the Department of Agriculture, I would be easily
The place is of crucial importance to the United States, costing
billions, contributing to the national bankruptcy, killing large
numbers of people, making America the new Nazi Germany in the eyes
of the world and, very likely, signaling the end of the American
Imperium. You would think wouldnt you? that people
would have at least a feeble grasp of such matters as where Afghanistan
is. But few do. I suspect that I could have referred to the Al Tadpole
party in the province of Clorox, and no one would have noticed.
How can this be? From my email I know that readers of this column
are intelligent, as indicated by literacy, clarity of thought, and
the number who sign themselves as things like Head of Technology
Development, Applied Bio-Physics Inc. So what goes?
I reflected on people like, say, a neurosurgeon in Kansas City.
He would necessarily be bright, that being an entry requirement
for neurosurgeondom. He would spend at least eight hours a day in
his hospital, plus commute and, in such free time as he had, he
would have to read endless journals to keep up with the field. Throw
in time with his family and a bit of television to turn his head
off for a while and maybe he just doesnt have time for
a couple of dozen books a year on international cavortings.
beings are intensely local animals. Afghanistan is not very local,
being intensely Somewhere Else. It has little to do with getting
the kids through school, planting the flower garden, shoving the
software project out the door on time, or getting drunk at Bobby-Lous
And of course
we are herd animals with a formidable tendency to attach ourselves
to groups it doesnt much matter what groups and
fight other groups. Thus football teams, bowling clubs, political
parties, and wars. Patriotism is exactly the instinct that makes
people cheer frantically for the Steelers against the Packers, and
armies are just Crips and Bloods with more elaborate switch-blades.
All of this
I suppose explains why so many are either flatly uninterested in
the war or, à la Fox, very interested but without knowing anything
about it where it is, who is fighting whom and why, how the
place got that way. Emotionally it is the Bulls vs. the Lakers.
Intellectually it is an empty jar.
And yet it
remains, or seems to remain, that the public, almost all of it,
has not the slightest grasp of the war and, by easy extension,
of anything else outside the borders. When I listen to Bill OReilly,
I want to hold up a placard behind him, asking his audience: Where
is Yemen? What is the capital? Have you read a single book on Afghanistan?
Read any book on anything? Heard of Eric Margolis? Can you distinguish
Sunnis from Albigensians?
This of course
is why the US is not a democracy: a country whose population consists
chiefly of baffled gerbils cannot be a democracy in more than form.
Instead we have the televangelists of ersatz patriotism shilling
for policies of benefit to remote lobbies, while a catastrophically
ignorant public shrieks approval. Gorgeous babes on Fox counsel
war. The audience roars. Ricky, Ricky, hes our man, if
he cant do it nobody can. Show your support for Central
High. God almighty.
is author of Nekkid
in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well and A
Brass Pole in Bangkok: A Thing I Aspire to Be. His latest
book is Curmudgeing
Through Paradise: Reports from a Fractal Dung Beetle. Visit
© 2011 Fred Reed
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