Where There Were No Doors

Follow your bliss and doors will open where there were no doors before - Joseph Campbell

Monday, January 03, 2005

George W. Bush: Bad communicator or Dumb schmuck?

I was exploring the various tools and options in my new-fangled Blogger blog, and noticed the Next Blog button on the top right of the screen. The more I thought about what it represented, the more it frightened me. The hideousness of all it implied. The context into which it placed my ideas and writing. The odd combination of freedom and powerlessness it bestowed. The mocking tyranny of the thing; "here", it said to me, "is a method of speaking to a billion people. But guess what? None of them want to listen to what you have to say". The lack of control I have over my own published thoughts. At once relinquishing all uniqueness; becoming a single blade of grass in a vast meadow... so that even if I manage to grow red instead of green I'll still never get noticed; and yet constantly finding my feelings of difference and separateness being reinforced. Blogging is such sweet paradox.

And so, having braced myself (with a couple of pipes of excellent skunk) for what I knew must be coming, I hit that Next Blog button and spent some time confirming my darkest suspicions. It's not that the quality of writing on most blogs is sorely lacking. The medium is supposed to be a democratising one after all. It puts the power to express ideas into more hands than ever before. Sure; it then trivialises those ideas in a thousand different ways, but the truly Great will always find a way to escape trivialisation. And no - certainly while we live in a world where half the population has never made a phone call, it would be sheer delusion to start thinking of this medium as genuinely universal; but while a lot of people isn't all people it's still better than a few people. Right?

Because of all that, I knew before I started that I'd have to overlook the quality of the writing in order to discover whatever true value is to be found within the blogs which presented themselves. Giving someone a platform from which to speak does not automatically turn them into a good orator. I wish it did... my public-speaking appearances have never been as successful as I'd like them to be. And so it is with the internet and writers. Giving someone the tools to become a published author does not transform them into a talented writer overnight.

And that's not a problem.

I love good writing. But I have books for that. And what good books they are too. When I read a blog I'm not looking for good writing. I'm looking for good ideas. I'm looking for evidence that more than twelve people on the planet are actually still thinking.

And that's what I feared most about the Next Blog button. That's what really brought out the cold sweats. I feared it would show me, beyond all doubt, that my estimate of a dozen was a little on the high side. And all the skunk in the world couldn't have braced me for what I was to discover when I pressed that button...

Dear god folks, it's a mess out there.

It is said that the internet was designed in such a way as to be capable of surviving a nuclear war. Yet the entire edifice is filled with hot air. Hot air on the blogs and pornography on the web. It's as fragile as a house of cards. A house of cards built using one of those 'naked women' decks.

But, if you click Next Blog enough times, once in a very long while you encounter a webpage that doesn't immediately make you want to strangle its creator. You read a couple of entries and they don't induce vomiting or a nosebleed right away. And suddenly you find yourself thinking... "Hey, that's a fair point. It's completely wrong, of course, but I can see why someone would think that." You consider leaving a comment, but - unsure of blogger comment etiquette - figure that the creator of that blog might not welcome long meandering tracts accusing them of an ill-considered opinion. Especially from a complete stranger.

So instead I've decided to talk about them behind their back. The blog in question is called Random thoughts - Do they have meaning? (which - I'm sorry - is a dreadful name for a blog if you ask me. Quite obviously, the answer to the question is "Er... sometimes they do... it clearly depends upon which particular random thought it is really. I mean, doesn't it? There is - by definition - nothing connecting random thoughts aside from their randomness. What sort of bloody question is that?! Eh?". But of course there will be many who believe "Where There Were No Doors" to be a lousy name for a blog. They're fools. And they're wrong. But that never stopped someone from existing).

And on "Random thoughts - Do they have meaning?" the post which drew my attention is the one entitled: Signs of Intelligence. The author, Jack's Shack, rebukes people who accuse George W. Bush of low intelligence based upon listening to him, or watching him, speak in public. Jack's Shack puts forward the perfectly legitimate point that poor communications skills do not equate with low intelligence. He points out, for instance, that:
I can carry on basic conversations in Spanish and Hebrew... But I am fairly awkward in both languages. Just because I speak poorly should I be concerned that people think I am stupid.

Now that's fair enough I suppose. Nothing to argue with there. But I'm not sure what it's got to do with the multitude of difficulties that George Bush has with the English language however. Frankly; if you're not yet fluent in your native tongue by the time you get to 58...? Well. I dunno. At some point I'm sure even the most dedicated language teacher would stop giving the student the benefit of the doubt and wonder whether they shouldn't maybe take up weaving instead? Or perhaps a musical instrument?

When President Dubya addresses an audience in his limited Spanish (as he often does when speaking in areas with a sizeable Hispanic population), nobody for a moment views a mispronounciation or a grammatical error as symptomatic of wider intellectual limitations. But when he switches back into English... the language he's supposed to be thinking in... and he still has real difficulties...?

Don't get me wrong. That's not to say that the man's a moron because he has trouble speaking fluently. History is littered with extremely smart people who had trouble communicating their ideas to others. But it's also true to say that - broadly speaking - intelligence goes hand in hand with an extensive vocabulary. I suspect that's just because in modern societies the smarter people tend to read more books... which turns out to be the best way to improve vocabulary. Bush is somewhat renowned for not exactly being "a reader". Again; I don't see a lack of interest in books as proof that the man's not too intelligent. But it is yet another warning sign.

President Bush raises both hands to his head in salute. What a plonker!

President Bush forgets which hand to salute with.
Again!


So Bush doesn't read much. Well, OK. I'll drop my European intellectual snobbery for a moment and acknowledge that's not necessarily a sign of low intellect. And he's not a great communicator. OK. Fair enough. That too is hardly a prerequisite for intelligence.

However, I can't believe that I'm being the slightest bit controversial when I say that both "the ability to successfully communicate one's ideas" and "an interest in - and knowledge of - the world which exists beyond one's own personal experience" are both absolutely essential attributes for a modern president to possess.

This man is supposed to be making the most important decisions on the planet, and he can't communicate his ideas effectively? For fucks sake. I ask you! This man is leading the most heavily armed nation into a future of eternal warfare and his knowledge of past conflicts is based entirely upon what he recalls from high school, what his cronies tell him, and a few American war films. Seriously!

I recall reading Isaac Deutscher's Stalin when I was 16 years old. I'd just finished Orwell's 1984 for the first time, and was reading (and often misunderstanding) Nietzsche with a feverish intensity (Aside: any teenager who wishes to read a book by Nietzsche should be forced to sign a contract obliging them to re-read it when they reach the age of thirty... at which point there's a chance they might actually understand him). My preconceptions and assumptions about politics, about society, about leadership and about power were being challenged from every direction by very smart people who'd thought long and hard about these things.

See; I'd spent over a year as an evangelical Marxist. But reading the combined wisdom of Orwell (his clarity of vision) and Deutscher (his reasoned critique and impassioned warning), and then taking a look at humanity through the eyes of Nietzsche...? Well, let's just say that the cruel absurdity of communism suddenly became distressingly apparent. And the only consolation I had (i.e. that at least it's not quite as cruelly absurd as capitalism) is no consolation at all. Not when you look around the world in which you live. And this is an important point here... That's never happened to Dubya Bush. All of his epiphanies have been of the monotheistic variety. He's never fused the wisdom of the ages within his own mind and seen the sparks that can light up the shadows. He gets his illumination slow and steady... through stained glass and cathode rays.

And that's just not enough for the leader of the free world.

Because yes... this sort of shit is important. Leastways if you want to be President of the United States. Feel free to live an unexamined life if all you want to do is own sports teams and play the markets with your family fortune. But if you want to order about the biggest army in the world, it seems to me that reading about what happened to the other men who did the same thing should, in fact, be a job requirement. There's just too much at stake here.

So when Jack's Shack concludes his defence of Bush with the question...
I have been guilty of judging people based upon their communication and not upon substance. Have you?

He knows that the only answer you can give is "Yes". Of course I have. We all have at one time or another. But that doesn't make it a 'wrong call' in the specific case of George W. Bush. Just watch him next time he's stumbling through a press conference or speech on a current issue (forget the State of the Union though... the number of times they'll have rehearsed him on that would have taught it to a squirrel. In fact they've genetically engineered a special squirrel to look just like George W. Bush and have it on standby for the big speeches and things). But just look closely at his eyes as he struggles with his syllables. The paucity of ideas contained in his words is not due to an inability to communicate what's going on in his head.

That's really not it at all.

9 Comments:

Blogger Jack's Shack said...

So when Jack's Shack concludes his defence of Bush with the question...Hi there, I am Jack and I appreciate your coming to my blog. But I wanted to point out that the quote above is inaccurate. In the same post I said:

This is not meant to serve as a defense of Bush, but as a basic exercise to consider how you view certain people and situations.And that is exactly what I meant. I can think of a 100 reasons why Bush aggravates me. And I certainly am concerned with the appearance regarding his cognitive abilities, but I am also concerned with the unwillingness or inability of some people to look for substance.

Bill Clinton is known for many things. He certainly is a very intelligent man. But even an intelligent man can make some very foolish decisions.

But just for the record I would like to see the following in my president.

1) An interest in the world around him that involves reading books, newspapers etc.

2) A fabulous team of advisers. It is too big a job for one person.

3) In an ideal world eloquence in both the verbal and written arenas so that he can effectively communicate his thoughts.

That is a 30 second snapshot and not complete, but it should suffice for now.

Again, thank you for visiting my blog and do come again.

3/1/05 16:13  
Blogger Jim Bliss said...

Hi there,

Thanks for dropping by! It's quite funny that you should cite this line from your piece...
>
> This is not meant to serve as a defense
> of Bush, but as a basic exercise to
> consider how you view certain people
> and situations.
>
I originally had a paragraph in my post about just that line. You started your piece with an observation that many people consider George W. Bush to be stupid based upon his poor skills as a communicator. The main point of your entire post, however, was precisely the fact that poor communications skills do not equate to stupidity.

You were - by definition - defending George Bush. You may not have wanted your piece to serve as a defence of the man, but that doesn't alter the fact that that's what it is.

It's reminiscent of an old folk tale. A tyrant king had decided to make an example of one of the villages in his realm. They had defied his orders to pay more taxes (for in truth they had no more to pay) and he sent his army to burn them to the ground. As his army approached the village they were amazed to discover the way was blocked by a giant lake that had never been there before, and far in the distance on the other shore, the little village remained safe.

For centuries afterwards the villagers and their decendants revered as sacred the industrious beavers who had dammed a river and created the lake which had saved them. Outsiders laughed at them. "The beavers weren't defending your village", they would mock, "they were just building a home for themselves". But the villagers didn't care. The lake *did* serve as a defence for their village.

Whether the beavers meant it to or not.

Take care,

Jim.

3/1/05 18:06  
Blogger Jack's Shack said...

Jim,

Ok, whatever. It is gameplaying to me. In the end the point remains the same. People do not spend enough time looking at substance. What lies beneath is more important than the exterior.

3/1/05 19:03  
Blogger gar said...

Whatever ... as I read somewhere, there is a village in Texas that is missing an idiot. His name is Bubba Dubya. Yes, he is stupid but he is cunning, brutal and easily manipulated by those who are truly in power. And they are not stupid.

3/1/05 19:29  
Blogger Jim Bliss said...

Gar,

How I wish that were true! How I wish that the people you call "those who are truly in power" genuinely were intelligent and wise. But they're not.

They are so spectacularly stupid that they will be remembered by history as the dumbest of all those rulers who presided over the demise of their civilisations.

It seems obvious to me - though I am willing to consider counter arguments should you have one - that the very essence of stupidity in leadership is to follow a course of action which will lead, demonstrably, to the collapse of the organisation being led.

Modern American civilisation - now exported across the planet under the guise of global consumer capitalism - is an unsustainable project. There are a number of shocking things about this fact. Two of the most unsettling are 1) that it is so very obvious once you think about it; and 2) that so few people have actually thought about it.

The current course of action being undertaken by the Bush administration is blatantly suicidal. To me that is very stupid indeed.

3/1/05 20:18  
Blogger Jack's Shack said...

How about some examples. You have made claims, but without examples it is tough to debate,

4/1/05 05:22  
Blogger Jim Bliss said...

Examples?

I'm not 100% sure I know what you mean there. Examples of what exactly? Are we still talking about Bush's intellect, or about the wider issue of the sustainability of capitalism? I'm happy to discuss either (though I'd suggest that the latter is both a more interesting and more important topic).

4/1/05 14:57  
Blogger Jack's Shack said...

Bush's intellect is not that interesting to me. I am curious to hear your thoughts about the sustainability of capitalism.

5/1/05 16:05  
Blogger Jim Bliss said...

I should be posting a lengthy spiel about capitalism and sustainability as a blog-post in and of itself over the next few days.

6/1/05 21:56  

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