Thursday, June 26, 2014

"Worldly ambition inhibits true learning." - Andrew Bacevich, "Washington Rules"

Worldly ambition inhibits true learning. Ask me. I know. A young man in a hurry is nearly uneducable: He knows what he wants and where he's headed; when it comes to looking back or entertaining heretical thoughts, he has neither the time nor the inclination. All that counts is that he is going somewhere. Only as ambition wanes does education become a possibility.
This is the opening passage to Andrew Bacevich's Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War. He goes on to describe how seeing Soviet soldiers' peddling their military insignia to tourists after the fall of the Berlin Wall caused him to question the entire edifice on which he had built his military career, namely that the United States's military interventions and sacrifice of domestic priorities to maintain global "presence" were necessitated by a strong, evil adversary.
By temperament and upbringing, I had always taken comfort in orthodoxy. In a life spent subject to authority, deference had become a deeply ingrained habit. I found assurance in conventional wisdom. Now, I started, however hesitantly, to suspect that orthodoxy might be a sham. I began to appreciate that authentic truth is never simple and that any version of truth handed down from on high--whether by presidents, prime ministers, or archbishops--is inherently suspect. The powerful, I came to see, reveal truth only to the extent that it suits them. Even then, the truths to which they testify come wrapped in a nearly invisible filament of dissembling, deception, and duplicity. The exercise of power necessarily involves manipulation and is antithetical to candor.
I thought of another analogy after watching Cosmos with Neil deGrasse Tyson. Black holes' gravitational pull is so strong that it distorts light coming from nearby stars to earth. Is that how authority causes us to misperceive our world?

I actually think it's our ambition and fascination with the authority that causes our misperception, because, in reality, these institutions only have power to the extent that we cede it to them.

And, just like Bacevich escaped US militarism's glamour, Muslims may escape the distortions of Islam institutions cause or entice.