Herbert Sweet

Herbert Sweet

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Social Classes

There is a new series of episodes of the Poirot character. I watch very little drama but do enjoy these. The accents and following the plot provide a bit of a challenge but ‘who dun it’ is not my primary interest. What attracts me is the portrayal of the ambiance and values of the times.

While watching the show yesterday, it occurred to me that most everyone, to some extent, seemed to be wrapped up in their social status or lack thereof. It is true enough that England has always been a class society but those values are not confined to that country. It is just more visible there.

I suspect that this anxiety started somewhere in the later part of the nineteenth century when stature became more identified with fortune rather than peerage. Prior to that you were either of the gentry or just another peasant.

The social status anxiety lasted up through the fifties. Even then, folks would dress to go to the grocery store. But by the sixties it was just about gone and people growing up since then will have no recollection of any of it.

There is some residue, though, and it is seen as a bellicose attitude common to what is euphemistically referred to as the ‘working class’. These folks generally seem to be of the opinion that there is some kind of conspiracy intended to dominate and deprive them of their rightful status. There is also a sense of pride and some humor as well expressed through the ‘redneck’ jokes and identification.

But, now-a-days, there really are no more fixed classes. People more up and even down. And what class you are in more of a self image or degree of awareness than it is of personal wealth. There are plenty of scholars and artists as well as many jobless middle class people that are shy on funds these days. They are not characteristically ‘working class’. (Is there a better name?) On the other hand, there are some relatively ‘successful’ folks that have chosen to identify themselves in this way. It gets complicated.

Perhaps some day these fuzzy distinctions will all be in the history books if not forgotten.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Eliminating Al-Qaeda's Sanctuary

On September 11, 2001, the United States was attacked by Al-Qaeda. Their base of operations is in Afghanistan. We are pursuing them there so that there is no ‘sanctuary’ for them. The task is enormous as the terrain is very mountainous. History’s ‘best’ conquerors have all failed to subdue the place.

But the United States has tremendous resources and, with an effort on the scale of that mounted during World War II, undoubtedly the task could be accomplished. But would it eliminate Al-Qaeda? Would Al-Qaeda and their sympathizers simply leave the world scene?

I doubt that. It seems more likely that they would simply move to another ‘failed state’ or some other remote part of the globe. How many failed states is the United States willing to mount full scale military operations to subdue? And how long and at what price could control be maintained?

In addition, it must be remembered that the Al-Qaeda 9-11 operation was planned in Hamburg, Germany. Are we then to subdue all of the Mid-eastern populations that have become minorities in all of the Western countries?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Iranian Uprising

Those of us that spend time listening to the ‘talking heads’ are hearing concerns about whether, and how much, the US should be getting involved in the uprising in Iran. At this point (Friday, June 19th), the administration is making only general statements not wanting to fall into the trap of being perceived as the ‘great instigator’. Congress, on the other hand, has been less cautious.

Thus far the political analysis has mainly focused on the behavior of the people and the government in Iran since 1979 but a more basic understanding is essential. That understanding is of the fundamental relationship between a leader and his followers.

There is a half conscious understanding between a leader and his followers that he is going to satisfy their needs and desires. Perhaps it was best put by Yasser Arafat in an appearance on the Charlie Rose show some years ago. Arafat was quoting Charles De Gaulle who was told by someone that public opinion was a ‘window of opportunity’. De Gaulle’s response was that was the wrong metaphor. Instead, De Gaulle said that “public opinion was like a galloping horse and you have to ride it”.

Throughout history autocrats have been overthrown when they have failed to understand this. The disconnect between themselves and the population occurred through either their own insularity and confidence in the permanence and righteousness of their positions or through the notion that their power was derived from their relationship with God and not from the people. The Iranian ‘Supreme Leader’, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, like King Louis XVI and Czar Nicholas II before him, is squarely in that camp.

Clearly, he is not a politician who owes his success to his understanding of the public mood. This Ayatollah sees himself as enlightened by the Word of God and thinks that the Iranian population buys that as well. This means that he believes that his view trumps those of all others. Negotiations and influence are accordingly going to be of little value. The final chapter, then, will occur when the populace becomes desperate enough and knowledgeable enough to end his reign.