Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Surreality-Based Community

At PressThink, Jay Rosen writes once more about Ron Suskind's excellent scoop on the senior adviser to the President who said this:
The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality— judiciously, as you will— we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors… and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''
Rosen is writing about the end of empiricism as policy in the Bush administration, and I cannot recommend this latest piece highly enough.

Incidentally, amid all the amazingly useful, timely and important insights he provides, there is also a bit that might help to explain why I chose to modify the MojoWire blog template to declare that we are "proudly serving the surreality-based community" in the header.
That passage caused a sensation when it was published, and the sensation introduced a new term, the reality-based community, into political talk. Two things happened right away. Many on the left adopted the term. “Proud Member of the Reality-Based Community,” their blogs said. The right then jeered at the left’s self-description. (They’re reality-based? Yeah, right.)

Spooked Republicans

Neither of those responses highlights the fact that in Suskind’s reporting it was Republicans spooked by Bush and his anti-empiricism who were beginning to speak out. After his portrait of Karen Hughes, after his book with bounced Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, after he wrote about Karl Rove’s operation, Suskind’s phone began to ring. His sources, he has said, were people who had been left out of decision-making or put off by the Bush team’s projections of certainty. Republicans, insiders. They had a disturbing pattern to report.

“By midyear 2001, a stand-and-deliver rhythm was established. Meetings, large and small, started to take on a scripted quality.”

“The circle around Bush was tightening.”

“The president would listen without betraying any reaction.”

“The president would rarely prod anyone with direct, informed questions.”

“By summer’s end that first year, Vice President Dick Cheney had stopped talking in meetings he attended with Bush. They would talk privately, or at their weekly lunch.”

Suskind had a lot of it figured out:
A cluster of particularly vivid qualities was shaping George W. Bush’s White House through the summer of 2001: a disdain for contemplation or deliberation, an embrace of decisiveness, a retreat from empiricism, a sometimes bullying impatience with doubters and even friendly questioners.
That “cluster” is not idealism. In the current New York Review of Books, Mark Danner talks of a “war of imagination” that Bush and his advisers preferred to fight. The thing is, it takes a leap of imagination to realize they did it that way. As Danner puts it, anyone trying to understand how the current mess in Iraq started “has to confront the monumental fact that the United States, the most powerful country in the world, invaded Iraq with no particular and specific idea of what it was going to do there, and then must try to explain how this could have happened.”
I have a theory that goes along with Mr. Rosen's observations here.

The Bush people aren't retreating from empirical reality so much as they're engaging in a "retrograde advance" into a surrealist fantasy where action is its own prelibation. There's a lot of hundred-euro words in there, but the basic distinction I'm trying to draw is that they aren't really running away from the observable facts so much as they're captivated by the seemingly unlimited potential of unfettered imagination. I think Mr. Rosen is saying the same thing.

So, when the rest of Left Blogovia was busy trumpeting their membership in the Reality-Based Community, I thought it was important to stay more focused on the surreality that animates the Bush administration policy apparatus than in the reality actually created in the wake of its actions. Other blogs and news aggregators are very good at covering the trail of wreckage and viscera left behind by movement conservatives, and we link to some of them from time to time. What I want to do is highlight the direction they're headed, the trends in their thinking, so maybe you too can imagine what horrible crimes they will find it necessary to commit next.

Meanwhile, the rest of Mr. Rosen's essay is lip-biting good. Go read it. Now.

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