Friday, September 6, 2013

"I didn't vote for no ghosts!"

In the afternoons I've been reading Lord of the Flies (more on that later) and in the evenings I've been watching coverage of the Syria hearings on C-SPAN.

A sentence in the book struck me yesterday:
The world, that understandable and lawful world, was slipping away.
It occurs on page 91, just about at the halfway point of the book.

The sentence comes not after one of those depredations that most of us remember reading about in Lord of the Flies back in high school, but after a parliamentary exercise gone wrong. The sentence is a verdict on a vote -- a vote on the question of whether there may be ghosts on the island.

The vote on ghosts seemed like a good idea -- some of the little boys had been having bad dreams, and their imaginations had started to work, and now there was too much loose talk, and people needed to be brought back to their senses. As leader, Ralph seized the moment and called for a vote: "Who thinks there may be ghosts?"

The outcome of the vote on ghosts in Lord of the Flies is so painful it can only be described in elliptical style:
For a long time there was silence and no apparent movement. Then Ralph peered into the gloom and made out the hands. He spoke flatly.

"I see."
As I read about the impending Syria vote and watch our representatives on TV, I am struck by the similarity to that gang of boys gathered on an island. Reason and logic point one way . . . and congressman after congressman confirms that the message from their constituents is overwhelmingly against U.S. military action . . . . It would seem that a simple vote would settle the matter.

And yet . . . when asked how they are leaning . . . they are off on flights of imagination about what use of force might accomplish, and about what might happen if the U.S. doesn't "send a message," all jumbled up with complicated re-workings of accepted notions of authority and rights and law.

I have a very bad feeling about this upcoming vote: what it means for Syria and for the region, and also what it means for us.

The voting incident in Lord of the Flies ends with the angry insistence by Piggy,
"I didn't vote for no ghosts!"

"Remember that, all of you!"
Fat lot of good it did him . . . .

Page references to Lord of the Flies are to the 2006 Perigree edition.

Related posts

Rep. Thomas Massie (R, KY) gives a convincing explanation of why Congress always ends up supporting the President's wars. It's a four step process that starts with pressure, and continues with arm-twisting, gets topped off with a dash of "secret briefings" . . . and then . . .

(See Zombie Alert! (How Government Secrecy Seduces Congress to Support War) )

"Humanitarian intervention" -- the great pretext for US intervention in Africa. Glenn Greenwald gave an outstanding talk in Chicago in May, 2012, in which he warned against humanitarian interventions: "The US -- no, everybody -- always says the reason for military intervention is 'humanitarian.'  . . . "

(See Greenwald Was Right: "Humanitarian" War in Syria? It's Just More War)

Perhaps the most troubling residue of the Syria crisis is that so much of our national discussion was centered on what our interests are, and whether we can force others to do what we want, and who our friends and who our enemies are. What's missing in all this is the question: what can we do to alleviate the suffering of the people of Syria?

(See Syria: Where Have We Ended Up?)