Saturday, February 16, 2013

Declarations of War: The Real, Unreal, and Hyperreal

A very interesting read (at least to me because in my class this semester we have been reading Dostoyevsky and even this week we are reading Wittgenstein and discussing language).  Note the first half of this is "philosophy heavy" but this connects well to the second part that gets at the "reality" of war and even discusses Kim Jong-un's actions with regard to destroying New York and then ends with a commentary on the new Distinguished Warfare medal.  Something in this essay for everyone.

Declarations of War: The Real, Unreal, and Hyperreal

How do we know when something is real? The first, most direct way is to experience it with our senses. For concrete things, that does neatly.

But what about less concrete things, or even concrete things beyond our personal ken? How do we know that they are real? If we do not or cannot experience them, how do we know they are real? Our knowledge of these things comes from indirect means: someone usually tells us (even if that someone is a presenter on the evening news, or the seemingly omnipresent Mike Rowe on Discovery Channel.)
Clearly, this poses several problems, epistemological as well as practical. For one thing, it places a premium on things we actually experience. Our limited (and for some of us, we might need to add qualifiers such as ‘exceedingly’ before that last word) experience, made up perhaps of only the humdrum, the provincial, pedestrian and the banal, defines the universe of things that we regard as ‘real’. That this ‘first hand’ knowledge can therefore be simultaneously too narrow, too shallow and represent the totality of our catholic worldview can be debilitating. Just because we haven’t seen it, don’t mean it don’t exist. If we hew too closely to this line, we may find that the shopping mall and fast food outlets will soon define the boundaries of the real for most of the West.

Beyond this frightening prospect, being told what is real is also fraught with problems. Chief amongst them is that fact that it provides too much power to those who do the telling. Some of those doing the telling will, of course, be blindered only slightly less than those being told. Other tellers, though, may choose to manipulate what they say, in order to pass on the ‘unreal’ as the real.
Some may do so to spare the people from the agony of the real. Recall the words of Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor,

That deception will be our suffering, for we shall be forced to lie.

The reality (that Jesus was real and had returned to the world of man) was simply too much for the ordinary Christian to bear. Those in power have a duty to protect the rest of us from reality.
Other tellers, though, may not have our best interests at heart. Rather, they may choose to alter what they deem to be real in order to protect themselves from harm. What Orwell’s Big Brother told the people defined what was real—absolutely; there could be no alternative, not even at another time. Indeed, Winston is part of what used to be called “reality control”—later redefined as Doublethink. The Party knew the power of such control:

Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.

They knew it, and they relied on it, and then ruthlessly enforced it, so that they could stay firmly on top.
If they are not any kinder, The Grand Inquisitor’s lies are more straight-forward than those of Big Brother. Orwell’s ideas of control resonate with the ideas of Wittgenstein’s 1922 Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus:

Language disguises thought. So much so, that from the outward form of the clothing it is impossible to infer the form of the thought beneath it, because the outward form of the clothing is not designed to reveal the form of the body, but for entirely different purposes.

The real is what is said to be real. The internal ‘reality’ of something is irrelevant.

Now, Dear Reader, I know what you are thinking: what on earth does this have to do with the usual King’s of War subject matter? Well, allow me to explain, by way of rephrasing the opening question of this already too long post (too long at least in accordance with the Rules of KOW).

How do we know when war is real?
(Continued at the link below)

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