One aspect of the American experience, at least for those who are lucky enough, is to come across a professor who considers his or her career a vocational calling. Seen from a different angle, one can gain a deeper understanding of a culture by determining what kind of priority its people place on teaching. After all, what is Hebrew for teacher?
Dr. Michael Brenner’s essay, “Buddha as Icon”, illustrates this point, particularly after Dr. Brenner decided to make his essay part of the record of Sic Semper Tyannis after originally publishing it at The Huffington Post. As a result, his essay has reached a new audience. And if readers give the essay the time it warrants, then, like any worthwhile art or art criticism, it will trigger an inner journey, if you will, in which one thinks about life in our present circumstances.
So, with that in mind, I would like to share a few thoughts brought on by Dr. Brenner’s essay, including, ultimately, how it relates to the chaos sown by our neoconservative-driven US foreign policy in the Middle East.
As Dr. Brenner suggests, the world recognizes that the Buddha kind-of-smile is a universally recognized divine action or about as close as we will get to one. And I say that as a somber, occasionally dour, person prone to a type of secular cynicism that knows no bounds. Plus, I am materialistic, or at least I aspire to materialism.
So, with such a predisposition, when reading Dr. Brenner’s essay on Buddha, I began to hear the same inner voice that I am sure countless others hear – the one that says, “Yeah, sure…” And, as if on cue, the words of a popular song, which I will link below, began to make their presence known, sotto voce at first, but then louder and louder. By the end of the essay, the lyrics almost drowned out the exquisite insights that Dr. Brenner offered like a fine wine. Here is the soundtrack to the experience, if interested.
In my defense, the song is essential listening because it demonstrates the importance of recognizing the difference between a Buddha kind-of-smile and the kind-of-smile mentioned by the Undisputed Truth -- the one that hides the evil lurking within. Smiling faces sometimes tell lies. Beware of the pat on the back. Take my advice; I am only trying to school you.
Those words by the Undisputed Truth act like a warning sign – one that you have to walk beyond before entering the territory about which Dr. Brenner writes. But, once you do, it is easier to look around and start drawing comparisons to “Buddha as Icon”. As an example, Mother Teresa, arguably, made the same point as Dr. Brenner when she said, “Peace begins with a smile.” And that takes us back to the idea of a divine action that transcends all.
After reading Dr. Brenner’s extraordinary essay the first time, when it was published at The Huffington Post, I too became inspired to put aside my jadedness and “move on up a little higher” in the Buddha spirit. And, getting all caught up in Dr. Brenner’s insights, I tried, in an earlier comment a few weeks ago at Sic Semper Tyrannis to suggest, rather unsuccessfully, that Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum had the same kind of universal smile to which Dr. Brenner alluded. But, from what I could glean, such a suggestion in all probability would have been met with some sure enough frowns, if not spiteful and withering glares, particularly among the kind of “progressives” you would come across at The Huffington Post and The Atlantic, formerly known as The Atlantic Monthly magazine.
But, for the record, I will say it again. “Until further notice, Buddha ain’t got nothing on Rabbi Teitelbaum when it comes to a smile.” Maybe I will have a different point of view later on, but right now, no.
So one must ask, why does the Atlantic crowd, drenched in all their progressiveness and enlightenment, not recognize Rabbi Teitelbaum’s smile of peace? Sure, a progressive of the Atlantic ilk can disagree with Rabbi Teitelbaum’s prophetic warning that Zionism as militant ethnic nationalism will only lead to tragedy – and they can disagree with him vehemently -- but at least give the man credit for a smile that reflects the points made in Dr. Brenner’s essay. In other words, why cannot James Fallows, an editor at the Atlantic, also move on up a little higher?
To answer that question, I found it necessary to exercise some further contemplatin’ on Dr. Brenner’s essay “Buddha as Icon”, although I probably should first add a disclosure. My approach to exercising contemplation, my technique so to speak, is not the same as Bikram Yoga, although I wish I could become that well-aligned and do not rule out another whirl at Bikram Yoga in a few millennia. But I must recognize my limitations. (Go ahead, Dr. Brenner give Bikram Yoga a try, you may end up preferring to read Qoheleth and then follow up with a “Qoheleth as Icon” essay.)
But now that I find myself waking up from the contemplative journey, be it as it may, I would like to make mention of an astute observation by Phil Weiss -- who is not part of the Sic Semper Tyrannis tradition and, in fact, would rather have a root canal surgery without local anesthesia before the mere mention of such an identification. (So not to worry, the distinction is duly noted.)
But Weiss wrote, to his great credit, that we live in a time of “ideological disarray”. And, as if to prove the point, Weiss made that comment in 2006 as part of a discussion titled, “What is left?, What is Right?” at The American Conservative – a venue that is a far cry from the “progressive” New York scene.
And from the other end of the spectrum, Ron Paul libertarian Justin Raimondo made the same point and did so before Weiss. Raimondo wrote in his own inimitable and funny way that we live in the Bizarro Times, when the space-time continuum has been shattered and what is up is actually down. Everything is turned inside out.
The intersection of views of Weiss and Raimondo, each representing two vastly different, in fact, adversarial intellectual traditions, suggests that world events have shattered the historical assumptions underlying the American pathos in the 21st century. These conventional paradigms are disintegrating because their underlying assumptions are failing to process historical changes taking place at an increasingly fast rate. Worded differently, we are living in a ball of confusion – that is what the American pathos is today.
So for those in the know, the venture into the unknown has begun in search of new organizing principles that better serve the American people. And certain people, such as Raimondo and Weiss, have moved on up a little higher from their respective intellectual traditions. They have done so while the oh-so “progressive” Atlantic blogging editors continue to deny the Undisputed Truth underlying US foreign policy, and the editors do so at all costs but, ultimately, at a considerable loss.
To add to the observations of Weiss and Raimondo, I would just like to offer a corollary -- one made while reading the Al-Jazeera after Col. Lang linked an article at that news organization on April 29, 2011. To borrow from an article by Tara Burkawi -- a name avoided at all costs and at a considerable loss by Atlantic progressives -- the real politick of war has the ability to dismantle old truths and create new ones. I would just add that the real politick of our US foreign policy has the ability to rip away old perceptions, thus revealing new historical truths that are emerging from the “ideological disarray” that has arisen during Bizarro Times.
To illustrate. Why has the progressive Atlantic refused to mention Al-Jazeera while, for years, Col. Lang from ol’ “racist” Virginny has done so, repeatedly? Is this an example of the tradition of Sic Semper Tyrannis “moving on up a little higher” while the Atlantic editors have not? After all, there is a little “jazz” in Al-Jazeera, if you catch my drift. But at the Atlantic, we seem to witness ongoing de-facto, if not de-jure, segregation.
No real jazz at the Atlantic, at least when it comes to recognizing Al-Jazeera. Good heavens, no. No moving on and then moving up at the Atlantic, at least not yet. And if the editors do, well…they do so after Col. Lang’s tradition of Sic Semper Tryannis did so years before. The historical record proves it and does so for all time. To stay with the motif that there is the sound of jazz in Al -Jazeera -- the soul train has already left the Atlantic station.
Weiss when looking back at the very crowd he left –and he did so at a steep price -- calls Atlantic editors such as Goldberg and Fallows “Progressive Except Palestine (PEP)”. If I may, I place PEP into a larger historical context and call PEP a type of American dyspepsia, and but the latest incarnation of the progressive “We care (but we really could not care less)” mantra that animates one aspect of the American pathos. It does not speak for all progressives -- not even close -- but it is the progressive bass-line driving American exceptionalism, at least in 2011, and it may very well weave its way back into America’s dangerous past.
The disasters brought on by our US foreign policy have blown to bits old perceptions and, as a result, new truths are emerging. And one truth that is emerging is that Atlantic progressives “care” (but they “really could not care less”). Subsequently, the Atlantic editors, cling to historical anachronisms based on false perceptions, and, bizarrely, now find themselves imprisoned in a time warp, as predicted by Raimondo. Goldberg and Fallows write in 2011 as if they are editors of the Harvard Crimson in the year 1977.
And the Harvard Crimson 1977 dynamic of Fallows and Goldberg was that they “cared” oh so much, but, in reality, “they could not have cared less”. This particular Harvard Crimson 1977 mindset spoke with great zeal against racial injustice in Arkansas that took place in 1955 but barely recognized that Boston in 1977 was racked with racial violence. And ultimately this Harvard Crimson 1977 way of thinking failed to accomplish what took place in Atlanta, that is, a comparatively successful transition to racial integration. (Beantown is one of my all-time favorite cities, the focus here is the Jacobin mindset of Harvard Crimson 1977, not those of Boston and many will understand this point).
And once those of the Jacobin mindset of Harvard Crimson 1977 made it to law school, they would spend a summer internship working with great zeal on racial injustice, but mainly to pad résumés to land jobs on Wall Street. (Civilian ticket punching). They cared but they really could not have cared less.
And, finally, to segue to the 21st Century, the Harvard Crimson 1977 crowd (and stretching back much earlier, to Harvard Crimson 1968) are the ones who promoted war in Iraq because they “cared” but, now we know, they “could not have cared less” about the people of the United States or those of Iraq or those of Afghanistan or Muslims or Arabs anywhere. They were the smiling faces that lied, and that is the Undisputed Truth behind American exceptionalism now and throughout much of American history. Not surprisingly, the global chant against American Jacobinism is growing louder and louder and it is one well-known, certainly in the land of Sic Semper Tyrannis: “Yankee go home.”
This mindset underlying Harvard Crimson 1977 explains the “progressive” version of neoconservatism at the Atlantic today. It is a 21st century version of Jacobinism in that such progressives strive for a over-centralized national government to pursue, through war, interests that do not necessarily best represent the American people. Contrast the voices being heard at Sic Semper Tryannis of ol’ backward Virginny to those at the Atlantic. General F.B. Ali’s voice is heard at Sic Semper Tyrannis but ignored at the Atlantic. At the Atlantic, there is no mention of the “Sacred Architecture of the Universe” brought on by General Ali’s insights into Islam. Yet there is at Sic Semper Tyrannis. There is no ongoing commentary from someone such as Yusuf al-Misry at the Atlantic nor is there any honest and sincere debate such as we have seen between Professor Baram and Yusuf al-Misry. In other words, James Fallows at the Atlantic cares but the emerging truth is he could not care less. It is Harvard Crimson 1977 (and earlier and later, too) all over again.
The great mystery among the Atlantic editors is Ta-Nehisi Coates. It is clear that Coates is not blinded by what Col. Lang has pointed out previously regarding the limits of political science, specifically as it is used to mask our Trotsky-like -- meaning Jacobin-like --“nation-building” projects in Iraq and Afghanistan. And while I have not spent much time reading Coates’ works -- more interested in the Goldberg-Fallows connection -- Coates is a man of literature and the arts. He is his own person, no doubt about it. Coates is a man not of political science, but a man of the humanities.
But, from what I can tell, Coates has yet to plunge into the “real politick” of the day, to borrow again from Tara Burkawi from Al-Jazeera. What does Coates think about Zionism in the year 2011? What does Coates think about Blumenthal’s video, “Feeling the Hate in Jerusalem”? What does Coates think about Operation Cast Lead? The Goldstone Report? Or what does Coates think about Weiss’ idea of Progressive except Palestine? True? False? Coates’ voice is needed, regardless of whether or not one agrees with his views.
Coates has done as much as anyone to show the art that underlies at least certain elements of rap music and, consequently, he has pointed to its soul. But the soul that lives in rap is “moving on up a little higher” and has left the Atlantic station, thus potentially leaving Coates behind as well.
To make the point, the rapper Lupe Fiasco came out with a very powerful statement resonating in the rap world, titled Words I Never Said. I could not help but wonder if Lupe Fiasco had Coates in mind. All the lyrics are worth reading but a few demand highlighting.
was gettin bombed but Obama didn't say shit
That's why I ain't vote for him, next one either
I'm a part of the problem, my problem is I'm peaceful
And I believe in the people! Yeah!
It's so loud inside my head
with words that I should've said
As I drown in my regrets
I can't take back
the words I never said
Now we can say it ain't our fault
If we never heard it
but if we know better, then we probably deserve it
Jihad is the holy war, where's that in the worship?!
Murdering is not Islam and you are not observant.
And you are not a Muslim
Israel don't take my side cuz look how far you've pushed em.
So, if nothing else, the rap world is becoming increasingly aware of the role that American exceptionalism is playing in fomenting chaos in the Middle East. And the rap world knows this kind of American exceptionalism reflects a hypocritical aspect of our history, with a bass-line of “We care (but we could not care less). It is Harvard Crimson 1977. It is Jacobin.
And Lupe Fiasco certainly appears to recognize the immense danger that Glenn Greenwald early warned us about. According to Glenn Greenwald – another one who has “moved on up a little higher” -- President Obama has authorized the assassination of American citizens. So what happens if someone like Newt Gingrich becomes US President and, consequently, takes over as executive of a highly centralized US Government with the authority to assassinate its citizens – a measure previously approved by President Obama? Who would end up on Gingrich’s hit list?
And, to take it a little further, what forces in America history have made it so easy for this nation, intoxicated with American exceptionalism, to veer across the line, drive off a cliff and then plummet headlong into tyranny? In this time of ideological disarray, old perceptions are falling away and new truths are emerging, and Lupe Fiasco, if only limited to the meaning of those quoted lines, has more in common with Col. Lang’s tradition of Sic Semper Tyrannis than he does with the editors of the Atlantic.
In closing, surely you have noted the refrain repeated innumerable times -- “moving on up a little higher.” The refrain makes up the crux of this essay because, in my opinion, literature and the arts give one the courage to “move on up a little higher”. One can even venture to define the soul of art as “moving on up a little higher.”
This idea brings us back to the beginning -- the smile that Dr. Brenner wrote about in, “Buddha as Icon”. Take a look at this heavenly smile, well-known among many, and see if it is a reflection of “Buddha as Icon”, particularly when she is singing, “I will move on up a little higher. Many believe she is singing for all time, past, present, future, alpha to omega. So see if she is a reflection of Mother’s Teresa’s “Peace begins with a smile”. And click on the title of the song to listen. If you fail to do so, you will lose the message of this essay. But, if you do, you may play the song more than once – you may even listen to it all day and beyond. And by doing so, you will gain a deeper understanding of the soul of art as well as “Buddha as Icon” from the land of Sic Semper Tyrannis, 2011.