Tuesday, November 16, 2010
"Islamophobia" and the "Chill Factor"
The real "Islamophobia" is not the fiction defined by PC MC and Muslims. The real "Islamophobia" is the fear of criticizing Islam and Muslims, let alone condemning them as they so richly deserve. This fear is dominant and mainstream now, and has been for several decades, but never more doggedly than after 9/11.
I've become convinced that this phobia is not merely delimited to the present, or even to the last 50 years, but goes back perhaps a few centuries. As I wrote in a previous essay, Western Amnesia, one factor explaining the odd dearth of Islamoliteracy in the modern West stems from a kind of massive collective Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder -- referring to the trauma of nearly relentless terrorism and torture inflicted upon the West by Muslims for a good thousand years, from the 7th to the 17th centuries, finally diminishing with the great defeat against the Muslims at their siege of Vienna in 1683.
And, precisely because this terrorism and torture began to abate by the beginning of the 18th century -- and thereafter dwindled (with a few relatively minor exceptions) to near zero for a good century and a half due to the unprecedented squalor and weakness of Muslims contrasted with the astronomical ascendancy to world dominance of the West -- that collective PTSD became further augmented by a collective, comfortable amnesia. With the notable exceptions of such learned analysts as Churchill, John Adams, Houck Snorgronje, Hilaire Belloc, etc., for the most part the West, as it entered its place in the global sun in the 19th century, simply chose to forget its perennial nemesis rather than take this unprecedented opportunity of global ascendancy and prosperity to study and condemn it once and for all: Better to simply forget what had so traumatized us for so long, now that we were out of the woods, so to speak. And by the 19th century and the first half of the 20th, hardly anyone in the West would have dreamed that Muslims could ever rise up and consolidate a threat anymore to the West.
As Muslims in fact did begin to coalesce and revive their undying ardor for world conquest, beginning in the 1950s with the utterly serendipitous boon of oil wealth, and then the ridiculously advantageous policies by the West of encouraging mass immigration of millions of Muslims into the West, and continuing thereafter with the inspirational jihad against Israel and later against Russia, and in a myriad ways erupting in one terror attack after another until they reached the giddying climax with 911 -- only to escalate and metastasize since then -- in hectic yet clever tandem with a massive and complex War of Ideas only outrageously aided and abetted by the West's own dominant PC MC culture --: As Muslims have been assiduously reversing their position of abysmal inferiority in which they found themselves by the dawn of the 20th century, the West has (again with notable but lamentably few exceptions) moved from PTSD and Amnesia about Islam, to nearly psychotic and functionally treasonous Denial.
What does all this have to do with The Chill Factor, the reader might ask? And what is The Chill Factor, anyway?
Also known as A Cold Night's Death, it is a made-for-TV movie that came out in 1973, starring Robert Culp and Eli Wallach. They are virtually the only actors in the movie, for it takes place at a remote Antarctic science station to which they are sent after the previous team mysteriously vanished.
The remote station is not totally without beings, however: there remain a few experimental monkeys, still in their cages, which Culp and Wallach find upon their entry. The two scientists radio their bosses to inform them that they have arrived, and to confirm the utter disappearance of the previous team. They are told to stay there -- food and supplies permitting -- to try to ascertain what happened.
I first saw the movie in the mid-70s. I later found a videocassette in a video store and saw it again, some time in the late 90s. It has struck me now for quite a while, as I have recalled its plot and superb acting and direction, that this relatively unknown film serves as an allegorical analogy for the tragedy of the Western mind when it stubbornly insists on being irrational -- even as it thinks it is being rational -- in the face of the danger of Muslims.
The two scientists of the movie -- Culp and Wallach -- play essentially two types of person: the former tends to proceed rationally and carefully about evidence, even as he has a basically normal human side; the latter tends to allow his emotions to guide him, even as he is an intelligent man of science. As the two settle into their new digs, they begin to try to collect any clues that would explain the disappearance of the former team. They examine any papers left around, any paraphernalia, clothing, etc. One haunting datum remains: the staccato static of the last team member's last communication on the radio to home base, warning of something, but cut off before any pertinent information could be told.
I won't detail the entire movie's slowly unfolding plot. The crucial part is the denouement at the end: Culp, being the more rational human, concludes that all the data they have gathered leads to the only explanation that makes sense, even if it is wildly counter-intuitive: the lab monkeys were responsible for the disappearance of the prior team. In coming tentatively to this conclusion, Culp includes the data of various strange, mischievous, and increasingly malicious events that have been happening to himself and his partner, Wallach, during their stay at the isolated science station.
At a certain point, Wallach's emotions verge into paranoia and even a little hostility -- not about the monkeys, but about his own colleague, Culp. He accuses Culp of trying to sabotage the mission, and even of being responsible for the malicious events that have been happening to them. Wallach vehemently maintains that it is impossible to even entertain the notion that the monkeys could be that intelligently malevolent. In this, he is doggedly defending a basic principle of science; but in his stubbornness, he is more and more flouting a competing principle of science -- namely, attention to the data and following its inferential trail no matter where it leads. And in his stubborn maintenance of the one principle, Wallach more and more becomes estranged from his human colleague -- for if it is impossible that the monkeys are behind it all, then it must be his partner, Culp who is the culprit. Culp keeps his cool and tries to persuade his partner to calm down, and to simply assess the data as they have it. Wallach seems unable to do so.
As the situation spirals out of control, Culp realizes only too late that his former friend, Wallach, in his irrational emotionality and paranoia about the wrong thing, has in fact formed an alliance with the monkeys, and he and the monkeys have set a trap for Culp after he puts on his blizzard outfit to go outside to check the communication lines. Wallach and the monkeys lock all ports of ingress. As Culp is freezing to death, he manages to find a small window to break into -- but it is too late: the final scene shows him falling halfway headfirst into one part of the outpost (which in the meantime Wallach and the monkeys have sealed off from the rest of the complex), gasping with his last breath at the extreme cold, his face ghastly with a mass of icicles, his eyes in shock, finally freezing, and then frozen, to death.
The allegorical analogy I see in this movie to our present situation: Wallach represents the PC MC mind (and, within the anti-Islam movement, even many asymptotic minds): It begins, and continues to proceed, by excluding the conclusion that all Muslims are dangerous, even when the data that would support it keeps mounting up to an ever-growing mountain -- thus moving from rationality to irrationality: or, more precisely, from rationally defending a rational principle to irrationally defending that rational principle, long after the data indicates that the principle is no longer tenable, given exigent circumstances. Culp represents the open mind that appropriately responds to the data, and makes appropriate dot-connections amongst the lacunae thereof -- even if the larger picture emerging from those dot-connections seems strongly counter-intuitive. Or is it Culp who is being the more intuitive, when he increasingly suspects the monkeys of being the evil masterminds behind the previous team's disappearance, and now diabolically trying to do the same to them?
This opens up an interesting discussion: Which one of the two is being more intuitive about the data? I would maintain that in fact it is Wallach (the PC MC mind) that is proceeding in a more intuitive way -- i.e., in a way that pays less attention to where the data leads and pays more attention to his "gut feeling" that emotionally defends an axiom considered unthinkingly to be a given: the monkeys cannot possibly be diabolical; all Muslims cannot possibly be bad. Therefore, they are not. Period. Culp, on the other hand, is not being intuitive -- his pursuit of the inferences where the data leads in fact is counter-intuitive, and that's why his is the more open mind.
The reader may protest: How can intuition be bad? And why should we go against our intuition? Ordinarily, I would agree with the purport of these rhetorical questions. However, our situation of PC MC is precisely a psychocultural situation wherein the wiring, as it were, of our own gut feelings has been tampered with, by our prevailing culture. This is where most analysts in the anti-Islam movement seem to get our predicament wrong: they tend to externalize PC MC as a foolish and/or dastardly force "out there" impinging upon us. The point of PC MC, however, is that it has insinuated its tendrils into our hearts and minds, through a cultural process over a long period of time, going back before our generation, and imbuing our cultural, social and political landscape with an atmospherics suffused with so many givens and axioms we breathe in and regurgitate out almost unthinkingly, as part of our second nature. Thus, Culp in our allegorical movie, has to go against his gut feelings, rather than be dominated by them, as Wallach is.
To me, the most acutely fascinating -- and horrifying -- part of the story is the transition of Wallach from emotionally, yet rationally, rejecting the notion that the monkeys could possibly be malevolently intelligent, to becoming more and more emotionally irrational about defending his rational principle, and finally, to actually joining the monkeys in an alliance against his own colleague!
While Wallach began by defending a rational principle based on a hypothesis -- namely, that monkeys are incapable of intelligent malevolance against humans -- that defense due to his own personality flaws quickly merges into irrational emotionality as Culp presses the opposite hypothesis by simply following the import of the data. Wallach gets emotionally angry at Culp for pursuing the data in such a way that it flouts the principle he, Wallach, holds tenaciously dear. Just so, the PC MC person begins with the hypothesis that Muslims are humans and that, being human as defined by them, must be the same as us and just as capable of good (or bad) as we are. As the anti-Islam person begins to amass data about Muslims that indicates otherwise, the PC MC person gets more and more irrational and emotional about defending his own hypothesis.
In the decades ahead, how many PC MCs (and even asymptotics) will make the same uncanny transition Wallach did in the movie -- moving from a defense of a hypothesis that protects Muslims from an imagined "Islamophobia", to forming an actual lucid alliance with the enemy?
Let us hope that our West, in its timid proactive anticipation of guilt at doing what it will have to do to defend its societies from Muslims, does not devolve into the same ending as The Chill Factor, where Culp's own partner freezes him to death. That would be one cold mea culpa.