The Moment of Truth — May 12, 2001

Zen Master W.

Hi, I’m mejeffdorchen and welcome to the Moment of Truth, the philosophers’ stone in the kidney of capitalist media.

I simply must share with you this subhead from the LA Times under the headline: Bush Picks 11 for Federal Bench. The line below it reads: “His first choices include conservatives and two Democrats, in a nod to political reality.”

Forget about Bush’s choices for federal judge. I want to focus on the clause: “in a nod to political reality.” I would like to ask for a moment of silent thanks for the fact that political reality has finally been given a nod by the President of the United States.

Okay, that’s plenty. Because I’m not even sure it’s such a good thing, this nod.

And I want to put this rhetorical phrase, “a nod to,” into colloquial perspective. If Time Magazine makes Newt Gingrich (a white male fascist) their Man of the Year, they are said to have “recognized” him. If they give a nickel to the George Washington Carver Museum of Peanut Butter Technology, they are said to have given the achievements of black Americans “a nod.”

If you are running frantically for a bus, yelling STOP STOP STOP, your actions could be said to reflect that you “recognize” that you are late for work. If you mutter “excuse me” to the little old lady in your way as you elbow her in the face, you are said to be “giving a nod” to the inconvenience you have caused her.

Thus, to give a nod means to pay a brief, tiny bit of attention to something you usually try to avoid acknowledging at all, having relegated it to a dusty, forgotten corner of your life.

So now the President has given a nod to political reality. And that is such big news that it made the front page of the LA Times, a paper that itself not only gives nary a nod to reality, but is sometimes downright antagonistic to it. Its distortions regarding stories in other media venues regarding the CIA connection to the crack epidemic and the testing of sarin nerve gas in Laos in the seventies are two examples that spring immediately to mind. So for the LA Times, avowed enemy of reality, to give a nod to the fact that the President himself has given a nod to reality – well, this must be a truly earth-shaking event. You’d think they would try to cover something like this up, but apparently it’s just too big to keep under wraps. They knew it would have to come out at some point.

>From the LA Times reaction we can infer that the President rarely admits the existence of reality at all, let alone glances noddingly in its direction. And we have to wonder why this is. Does he, like the idealist philosophers, believe that his perceptions are the only true matter of existence? Is it an “objective” reality that he argues against? For, and I must say I sympathize with his reasoning here, why posit an “external” world outside of the mind? Why create this second reality? Wouldn’t Occam’s razor lead one to simplify the posited anatomy of the universe? To lop off, as it were, this dangling atrophied limb of a superfluous external “reality” from our diagram of the cosmos?

I think Bush makes a good philosophical point here. If there’s a world in my mind, why should I bother to consider the existence of anything outside it? Why mess things up with this proposed extra reality stretching out away from me in all directions with its arsenic saturated waters and its sweatshop laborers and nuclear waste-strewn backyards and its angry protestors and mocking political satirists?

Of course, this line of reasoning can be frustrating to others, particularly those who insist they exist outside the mental phenomena of the philosopher.

In fact, I remember once some footage a friend showed me, a friend who collects censored news footage, among other obscure but useful things. In this footage, Dick Cheney and George W Bush are in an argument sometime during the 2000 campaign. And, apparently they didn’t know the mic near them was on. And you can hear the tail end of the argument. Cheney, clearly upset with what he perceives to be his running mate’s intransigent sophistry, goes, “Sùhere, I’ll prove the existence of reality!” and kicks W in the shin.

I don’t know which is worse: to have a President who refuses to acknowledge reality, or to have his father’s friends using violence to try to forcibly convert him from his phenomenological beliefs. This is America, after all. If the President doesn’t want to believe in reality, that’s his constitutional right, one would think.

And who knows? He could be onto something. Though one could accuse him of holding a philosophy of convenience. After all, now that the United Nations has tossed the US off the Human Rights Commission and the Narcotics board, he may feel the unpleasant reality – of what the rest of the world thinks about the US – closing in on him.

Then again, when you get down to it, Bush’s philosophy is merely an extension of the foreign policy of previous administrations from the last century, a policy that never took the sovereignty, the opinions, the dignity, or the citizens lives, let alone the reality, of other nations with even a grain of salt. When one leaves the country and experiences the media of Europe, Asia and Africa, one really begins to see how much the US government and its corporate masters are living in a world order made solely of their own perceptions and wishful thinking. The US bombs the most important pharmaceutical plant in Sudan, bringing devastating amounts of disease and death to innocent people in that region, but it insists on its sovereign right to have done so, and has never publicly reexamined its contention that the building was somehow a weapons factory connected to Osama bin Laden. If HE even exists.

And here’s Secretary of State Colin Powell, sneering at the inclusion of Sudan on the Human Rights Commission. Sure, Sudan’s human rights record sucks. But here’s Colin Powell, who in the Vietnam War was so absorbed in his own universe that he ignored a US soldier’s report of the intentional massacre of civilians by US troops. Colin Powell, whose strategic thinking helped destroy the lives of thousands in Panama. Colin Powell, who left the ethnic and political insurgents against Saddam Hussein’s Bathist Regime to dangle in the wind and be slaughtered after the US’s so-called victory there.

Clearly reality is the last place the US government is looking to guide its policy thinking on anything at all. Even leaving aside the abandonment of the Kyoto treaty, the threatened abandonment of the ABM treaty, the US subversion and defanging of an international process for trying perpetrators of genocide, war criminals, and other human rights abusers – even leaving all this and our unpaid dues and our cultural imperialism and socially destructive demands on foreign economies aside, the nations of the reality outside the US’s mental construct have a lot to be disgruntled about. And, to be fair, kicking the US off a couple of UN committees is a pretty gentle prod in an effort to shake the world’s only superpower awake to the reality beyond its own perceptions.

Is it a coincidence, then, that such an existentially self-absorbed philosopher as President George W Bush should, at just this particular juncture, be reported to give “a nod” to reality?

But on the other hand, in fairness to the beliefs of others, and as responsible human beings, shouldn’t we, the rest of world, pause a bit and make sure we are really right in seeking to jolt this true philosopher out of his egoistic coma? For one thing, do we really exist? And if so, do we have the capital to shore up our existences? Can we muster up the media attention to assert our existences in a serious number of venues? Do we have the military power to back up our claims of existence with action? And to be able to recognize reality, to perceive reality, are these really attributes to be prized so damn highly? I mean, where has it gotten us, we who live outside of Bush’s mind, honestly? Are we happy? Living in our big fat fancy “reality?”

Look at the innocent face of our President. Utterly uncontaminated by knowledge. Students of Zen work their whole lives to unlearn things our President will never even know. Perhaps last night George W Bush dreamed he was a butterfly. But look at his face. Look at it in any photo you choose, any photo, any video clip, any day of the week. I ask you, is that not the face of a butterfly dreaming that it’s the President?

Until we all meet in atman, I am mejeffdorchen and this has been the Moment of Truth.