Thursday, July 15, 2004

Tribal Memory

One striking difference between middle eastern and western cultures stands out above all: the difference in tribal memory.
Early last year, prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom, Camille Paglia discussed one side of this cultural phenomena in a Salon interview. Arab culture has a tribal memory that spans generations; western tribal memory spans news cycles. She applied this concept to the Bush administration, and her observation can certainly stand as one of the reasons that we're still up to our hips in Iraq - the policy wonks who should have understood this concept either totally ignored it or chose to push forward anyway:

It doesn't seem that Rice or any other member of the Bush inner team has spent any real time in the Mideast.

No, they have no visceral feeling for the people of that complex region. The Middle East has been a seething crucible for thousands of years. All the border lines there are provisional -- they're always being drawn and redrawn. So this is madness -- even trying to sustain Iraq as a national entity after destroying Saddam's tyranny. Iraq is just a self-serving idea that the British had at the end of the Ottoman empire. It's a cauldron of warring tribesmen. Clinton never understood this either -- about the Mideast or the Balkans. He just wanted everyone to get along. What naivete! The fierce animosities, the blood memory in those parts of the world. I understand it from my family background in Italy. We have long memories: Things that happened decades or centuries ago are as vivid as today -- it's tribal memory. That's what the Bush administration is missing about Iraq. They think that destroying Saddam will create a nation of happy Iraqis.
In my prior post, I discussed America's short attention span. Perhaps our national ADD explains our lack of collective outrage to nearly every situation with the Bush administration that should have, under normal conditions, spurred lynch mobs walking down Pennsylvania Ave. bearing torches.

Or, on the other hand, do we have so many things competing for our collective outrage (both left and right) that we let our respective mediatainment masters tell us what our "outrage de jour" should be, and then as soon as the story is played out (ex: Abu Ghraib), the media moves on and tells us what the next one should be?

If so, we've been played on a grand scale.

When it's impossible to get the mainstream media to take a whiff of a story as potentially lethal to our national psyche as the one at this link (and this one and this one, among others), then we've truly lost our capacity as people (and as a society) for collective outrage. We are, in fact, truly doomed. Bring on the rapture.

Someone in the mainstream media needs to get a conscience, and put it all on the line. Now.

MESSAGE TO THE MEDIA: When children are involved, as a person with a megaphone, you have the capability of getting to the bottom of the story. And because children are potentially involved as victims of heinous activity, every single one of you have a MORAL OBLIGATION to investigate tell us if these reports are truth, bullshit, or somewhere in between.

And if there's truth, then there should be a billion person march on Washington, D.C. to run every stinkin', coverin' up son-of-a-bitch elected politician and bureaucrat out of the city who turned a blind eye to the outrage. I'll volunteer to lead the parade, and even bring a few tiki torches from my back yard.

Back to the tribal memory thing. How does this relate?

Because in western culture, Abu Ghraib is, like, so two months ago.

In arab culture, they'll never forget. Ever. Future poxes have already been wished on your children's children's children.
Update, 11:50PM, 7/15/04: The Cato Institute's take on our collective mass amnesia.